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Event report: Islamophobia Conference Scotland 2018

The SACC/IHRC annual Islamophobia Scotland conference was held at the Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh on 15 December 2018. It was the fifth consecutive Islamophobia Conference held by IHRC and SACC, and the fourth to be held in Scotland. This year's Scottish conference followed a conference in London on 8 December. The theme for both conferences was "Islamophobia and silencing criticism of Israel".

Workshops at the start of the conference provided an opportunity for attendees to get to know one another and informally discuss matters connected to the theme of the conference. At one of the workshops Sarah Glynn proposed that the conference send a message of solidarity to Edinburgh's Kurdish community in the face of recent police raids. Sarah was scheduled to speak at the conference on behalf of Scottish Jews Against Zionism and is also involved in Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan. Though the issue is little separate from the conference theme, it engages SACC's core aims. Recent police harassment of the Kurdish community has been on a scale not experienced by any of Edinburgh's minorities since the fishing expeditions that police conducted amongst Muslims following the arrest in December 2002 of a number of Algerian men on what turned out to be trumped-up terrorism charges. SACC was set up in response to those events.

Sarah's proposed message was read out to the conference at the start of the first plenary and was agreed unanimously. It can be read here.

The first panel featured Arzu Merali (IHRC), Sai Englert (researcher, SOAS), David Jamieson (CommonSpace journalist) and Sarah Glynn (Scottish Jews Against Zionism) and was chaired by Richard Haley (Chair of SACC). The panellists spoke on the theme: "relationships between Islamophobia, anti-semitism, far-right movements and Zionism." David Jamieson told the conference that, besides the threat posed by false allegations of anti-semitism intended to smear critics of Israel, there is no room for complacency about real anti-semitism, or about the need for continuing education on the Holocaust. He said he had met young people in Scotland who know nothing about it.

Contributions from the panel were followed by a lively discussion from the floor. A key issue that emerged centred on how to respond to attempted involvement in anti-racism events of people visibly organising around support for the racist Israeli state while presenting themselves as anti-racists (for example, as in the events discussed here). All the panellists agreed that there should be no place in the anti-racist movement for organised support for Israeli racism.

The second panel featured Omar Afzal (Muslim Council of Scotland), Mohammed Dean (Friends of Al Aqsa -Edinburgh), Massoud Shadjareh (IHRC), Wael Shawish (Scottish Palestinian Society) and Sofiah MacLeod (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign), and was again chaired by Richard Haley. The theme for this panel was "how colonialism, Islamophobia and false allegations of anti-semitism threaten solidarity with Palestine, and how we can fight back."

Contributions from the panellists were again followed by lively discussion from the floor. This included a good deal of discussion of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. There was general agreement that the definition conflates criticism of Israel with anti-semitism and therefore tends to silence criticism of Israel. But the anomalous status of the definition as a non-statutory policy adopted by the UK and Scottish governments and various other organisations gave rise to varied perspectives on its likely effects and the best tactics to counter them.

Pete Gregson spoke from the floor about the difficulties he had experienced within both the Labour Party and his union, the GMB, after he authored a petition challenging the Labour Party's use of the IHRA definition. More about this issue (including the subsequent ruling against him at a GMB disciplinary hearing) can be found here.

All the panellists said that BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) is key to solidarity with Palestine. And, like the speakers on the first panel, all agreed that there should be no place in the anti-racist movement for organised support for Israeli racism.

Massoud Shadjareh (Chair of IHRC) concluded the day with a round-up of the themes that had emerged from the London and Edinburgh conferences.