A Scottish Government minister has pledged not to join the boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaign against Israel. Humza Yousaf told a Glasgow Jewish Representative Council centenary event on Tuesday night: "You get wiser as you get older and see things from a different perspective. "I can give you the Scottish government's vow that it is our policy not to boycott Israel, as we believe in continued dialogue."
The minister for external affairs and international development also told guests at Giffnock Synagogue: "Our position on the Middle East doesn't vary much from the UK government. We are committed to a two-state solution along the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared city. However, we are concerned that time is running out for the peace process."
But Mr Yousaf was challenged on his statement that 'settlements' were illegal because many of the countries who support that decision at the United Nations had appalling human rights records.
He retorted: "I agree that there are human rights issues in many countries, including China and the Gulf states. On visits there I have made it clear that minority rights should be protected. But we believe that the only international law is that of the United Nations."
An audience member raised the fact that when the Human Rights Council met at the UN in March, five out of 10 motions were against Israel - which was shameful especially as there were human rights breaches in so many countries.
Mr Yousaf continued: "Countries with a poor human rights record should not be allowed to go under the radar. As a point of clarification, international law is not decided by the Human Rights Council, but by resolutions passed at the UN General Assembly - and we support international law."
And, responding to a question if he thought the motivation for the high level of anti-Israel motions in the Scottish Parliament came from Arab countries where there is a call for the destruction of Israel and Jewish genocide, Mr Yousaf replied: "I don't have any influence over the Scottish Parliament. Individual MSPs are lobbied and are responsible for the motions put forward. I have been dismayed at times by moderate members of my community conflating Israel with Judaism. When I hear it, I stand up against it."
He also said Israel was not an apartheid state and added that an independent Scottish government would protect the rights of the Jewish community on shechita and circumcision.
When told that Israel's War of Independence had created around 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Mr Yousaf agreed that the rights of all refugees should be looked at. And he admitted that he had been unaware that there were so many Jewish refugees in 1948.
GJRC immediate past president Edward Isaacs said he trusted Mr Yousaf would inform his colleagues of the concerns that were expressed on the number of anti-Israel motions at the Scottish Parliament. Mr Isaacs added that the Scottish Jewish community would wish any future Scottish government following a 'Yes' vote in the Referendum to be even-handed in the Israel/ Palestinian conflict.
This article was published in the UK Jewish Telegraph on Friday 16th May 2014