Kindness and Compassion During the Festive Season and Beyond
Professor Joe Goldblatt
“A bomb may be planted in my car.” These words were whispered to me by my father when I was fifteen years old. Papa was in the 1970’s the first Jewish candidate from his neighbourhood for the Dallas, Texas City Council and he was a victim of anti semitic threats.
In previous months, a far right neo Nazi group known as the American Nazi Party had worn storm trooper uniforms and marched for several hours in front of his hardware store. Papa reported this incident to the U.S.A. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) because they were responsible for hate crime incidents. They interviewed my father and notified him that they had received other threats against him including a potential bombing.
To help the FBI, Papa agreed to allow them to place a small wire upon the bonnet of his automobile so that if it was ever broken he would know to not start his vehicle and immediately notify the FBI. All of this seemed very foreign and strange to me as I had grown up in a world that was relatively free of antisemtic incidents.
However, the recent debate of potential hate crime legislation in Scotland has placed that experience of 53 years ago and a more recent one in much greater perspective. A few years ago, I received an anonymous seven page anti semitic letter at my Scottish University.
I had returned from teaching to my desk and there was an envelope in my chair. I opened it and found the most horrific attacks upon the Jewish people and myself personally. I then reported this to the security department at the University and they responded “We have never had this happen before. What would you like us to do?”
I suggested that, although I found this uncomfortable and embarrassing, I felt I must report this incident to Police Scotland as a hate crime so that it would officially recorded for statistical purposes. University security immediately followed my request and then I waited for Police Scotland to contact me. And I waited for what seemed to me to be a long time.
Three months later a local police constable detective contacted me by telephone to arrange a meeting. I asked that he notify me before he arrived so that I could arrange a private meeting room in order to not draw public attention to this issue.
Instead, the constable arrived without an appointment and I was called by security to meet him in the visitor’s waiting area. I then quickly found a private meeting room and the experienced detective apologised for the delay in contacting me and further explained that several constables were recently off work due to illness. He then apologised once again and said that it was standard operating procedure to first finger print the complainant of a hate crime to rule them out as the perpetrator. He said that some complainants send themselves letters to create publicity for hate crime organisations and that I first needed to be ruled out as a perpetrator.
I begrudgingly agreed to be finger printed, for the first time in my life, and then we commenced the meeting by my recounting the incident. The PC Detective said that because the letter was anonymous there was little he could do. However, he would come back to me later with an update. I never heard from him or Police Scotland again.
In addition to the hate letter I received a flood of anti semitic videos and these were later blocked by my University IT department. I also reported these to Police Scotland and was told internet hate crimes are actually easier to trace the perpetrator as compared to a letter received by post.
For two years, I kept this incident quiet so as not to worry my wife or family and to not call attention to the perpetrators mission to terrify me and others. However, my mind changed when I attended an event at the Scottish Parliament to hear testimony from members of the Islamic committee about their own experiences with hate crime. One muslim described walking while wearing her hijab and being verbally and physically attacked in a small town in the Scottish highlands where she was on holiday.
I was so deeply shocked and saddended hearing this that I, for the first time in my life, in front of 50 other citizens and elected officials, shared my own story of antisemitism in Scotland. When I finished, you could hear a pin drop.
At the end of the programme several other muslim women approached me to thank me for sharing my story. These negative shared experiences brought us closer together as Scottish Jews and Muslims. I immediately thought that there needs to be more of this sharing of experiences to bring us closer together.
For example, the Edinbrugh University Student Association (EUSA), to their credit, has recently issued a statement supporting the wearing of hijabs on campus, however, their stance on anti semitism has been more erratic over many years. Fortunately the UK Education secretary has called upon Universities throughout the UK to adopt the International Holocaust Rembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism before Christmas of this year and our own Scottish parliament is now tabling new, first time ever, hate crime legislation.
Recently, having seen the Scottish Government official guidance on proper etiquette during the pandemic, I was motivated to draft on behalf of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association, new guidance on kindness and compassion practices for faith communities to better influence and lead their members to promote greater understanding, tolerance and love within our civil society. during this unprecdented time of civil conflict.
The anti – racism movement has further motivated me to stand up and speak out to remind myself and others that the only thing that allows this evil to grow is when good people refuse to do something positive. Dr Martin Luther King’s wise admonition some sixty years ago is even more relevant today. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Therefore, I shall never be silent again and I hope that many of my fellow citizens during this festive season and far beyond shall also stand up and speak out.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is the Treasurer of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association www.edinburghinterfaith.com. To learn more about his personal views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot