SNP leader: We cannot allow a geo-political situation to divide our Jews and Muslims

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SNP leader: We cannot allow a geo-political situation to divide our Jews and Muslims

Scotland's first minister Humza Yousaf tells a Yachad event about attempts to prevent the conflict in Gaza from affecting relations between the communities in Scotland

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

SNP leader Humza Yousaf takes part in Yachad conversation event
SNP leader Humza Yousaf takes part in Yachad conversation event

Scotland’s first minister has directly addressed divisions between Muslim and Jews at home caused by the conflict in Gaza, insisting: “We cannot allow a geo-political situation, as emotional as it can be, to divide our two communities apart.”

Speaking at an event organised by the British-Jewish advocacy group Yachad, Humza Yousaf accepted that tensions had increased between both communities as a result of the 7 October Hamas terror attack, and Israel’s response.

But the SNP leader noted efforts to improve the situation, including an interfaith iftar he hosted at his official residence, at which it was “really heartening to see the Imam and the Rabbi break bread together next to each other, talking and engaging with each other.”

He added: “I’ve tried my best to bring the two communities together. We can have honest disagreements, but that shouldn’t stop us from meeting each other or engaging with each other.”

As tragic events continue to unfold in Israel after 7 October, Yousaf had been widely praised as he joined SCoJeC and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council for a Service of Solidarity at the Giffnock Newton Mearns Synagogue. The first minister also embraced the mother of Hamas victim Bernard Cowan.

But in the months since, the SNP have angered many in the community with their often hostile stance towards Israel under Yousaf’s leadership.

There have been accusations that the party has sought to exploit the Gaza crisis to try to prevent a Labour revival in Scotland.

Interviewed by Yachad’s Danielle Bett, Yousaf repeated his belief that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Gaza, and that it can only be solved by diplomacy and dialogue.

Turning to the fate of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas, he said: “I repeat what I’ve said from day one, they must be released unconditionally, those hostages that are being held.”

But Yousaf also noted the suffering of those who had lost friends or families in the 7 October terror attacks, with those Palestinians who had then lost family members, including children, as a result of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

He said: “That grief of the Palestinian mother who has lost her child has nothing of course to do with the terror attacks of October 7th.

“That grief, and the grief of an Israeli mother who has lost a child, the only hierarchy there is grief, because there can’t be anything worse than losing a child. That’s how I’ve tried to approach this.”

SNP leaders at the Giffnock & Newlands Synagogue.

The first minister also said it had not been easy sharing the time his in-laws were trapped in Gaza early on as Israel responded to the Hamas massacre. Elizabeth El-Nakla and her husband Maged were visiting family in Gaza when the Hamas attack on Israel took place.

He said he believed it was “important to do so until a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found.”

Elsewhere in the interview Yousaf spoke of his familiarity with Judaism, having become friends with an observant neighbour, who he will help out during Shabbat.

Yousaf became Scotland’s first Muslim and ethnic minority first minister just over a year ago.

He was recently targeted with racist and Islamophobic graffiti outside his home in Dundee where he lives with his wife and two children.

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