Days before Scotland votes in a referendum on independence from Great Britain, the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond appeared to equate Islamic State terrorism and Israel’s military campaign this summer against Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the separatist leader responded to a question about the beheading at the weekend of British aid worker David Haines by Islamic State, describing the murder as an act “of unspeakable barbarism” and later stressing, “The Muslim community of Scotland isn’t responsible in any shape or form for atrocities or extremism in Iraq or elsewhere.”
“So there’s community relations to be thought about,” interjected the host.
“It’s very, very important,” Salmond continued. “I mean, just like a few weeks ago, the Jewish community of Scotland wasn’t responsible for the policies of the State of Israel.”
Interviewer Marr did not query the comparison, and Salmond continued: “The message has to go out, of course, that any aggravated racial and religious attack will be met with the full force of the law and will not be tolerated,” he added.
Vivian Wineman, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, decried the remarks, although he added that he did not believe that Salmond meant to draw the comparison.
“Any attempt to equate the actions of the democratically elected Israeli government in defending its citizens from attack with the despicable cold-blooded murder of a British aid worker by terrorists would be self-evidently absurd and vile and we cannot conceive that this was the First Minister’s intention,” Wineman said, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Operation Protective Edge was the longest and deadliest of three Hamas-Israel wars in less than six years. More than 2,000 Palestinians, were killed. Israel says that around half of the dead were fighters from Hamas and other terrorist groups. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side, including six civilians, in a war that erupted on July 8 when Israel responded to heavy rocket fire by Hamas and other Gaza militants.
Salmond, first minister in the Scottish parliament, is the outspoken leader of the Scottish pro-independence party. The country will vote in a referendum on Thursday on whether to remain in the union with England and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Some polls suggest the No camp is trailing in every age group except the over-60s. Opinion surveys indicate more than 63 percent of that age group is expected to vote in favor of the union. As older people are more likely to be on the electoral roll, there has been a huge drive to get younger people engaged in the Yes campaign.
Interest in the referendum is sky high. A total of 4,285,323 people, or 97 percent of the voting-age population, have registered to vote in the referendum. That’s an increase of 300,000 compared to registration figures in 2012.
The turnout for Thursday’s ballot could exceed 85 percent, compared to the just over 50 percent who voted in the last Scottish Parliament elections in 2011, and the 63.8 percent who turned out for the 2010 British parliamentary election.
Many Scottish Jews say they are wary of secession, citing anti-Israel statements by the Scottish government, historic and family links to the United Kingdom, and the potential economic risks of independence.
“The Jews in Scotland have been well received,” said Malcolm Livingstone, chairman of the Glasgow Jewish Community Trust. “It’s only in recent times that extreme Palestinian groups have upset that. The Scottish Parliament has shown serious signs of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes.”
Scotland’s 2011 census counted fewer than 6,000 Jews — about 0.1 percent of the population — most of them living in and around the industrial metropolis of Glasgow.
During the Israel-Hamas war, the Scottish government released eight statements criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza. On August 5, it called for an arms embargo against Israel to protest civilian deaths in Gaza. Glasgow’s City Hall flew the Palestinian flag for a day in August.
The anti-Israel resolutions in Scotland have come alongside a spike in anti-Semitism here. More than 35 anti-Semitic acts occurred in July and August, reports say, compared to 14 in all of 2013. While Salmond’s Scottish National Party, which is leading the independence charge, has condemned anti-Semitism, some Jews worry that nationalist feeling has encouraged it.
AP and JTA contributed to this report.