Middle East peace group to set out stall at SNP conference

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Influential members of Scotland’s Jewish community will have an official stall at the SNP conference under plans to “counter” hostile anti-Israel views, it has emerged.

A new group called SNP Friends for Peace in the Middle East has been allocated space at the nationalists’ annual gathering next month in Glasgow after Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive, was lobbied by Professor Joe Goldblatt, an American Jew who teaches at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University.

Goldblatt’s group aims to engage with senior SNP figures and the party’s rank and file, many of whom condemn Israel for alleged atrocities inflicted on the people of Palestine.

A group called SNP Friends of Palestine will also have a stall at the SNP conference and will host fringe events to express solidarity for Palestine.

It was suggested last week that Goldblatt’s group could face “hostility” at the conference and questioned if the move was part of a wider “effort” by the Israeli government to fund initiatives abroad to counter public support for Palestine. On Friday, Goldblatt insisted no funding had come from the Israeli government and that the group’s aim is to promote peace in the Middle East and strengthen Scotland’s economic ties with the region.

“The purpose of our group is to bring together men and women of good heart from all backgrounds to further positive links with the Middle East,” said Goldblatt. “We are pro-peace.”

Sammy Stein, a co-founder of the group, recently met with Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, and raised concerns that members of the Jewish community in Scotland continue to be victimised because of their ethnicity. He provided evidence of “vile language” recently posted on the SNP Friends of Palestine Facebook page, a group supported by a number of SNP politicians, after a delegation of Conservative MSPs visited Israel in August.

Stein has also raised the case of an Israeli businessman in Aberdeen who claims to be the victim of an orchestrated hate campaign from pro-Palestine supporters. Nissan Ayalon, who sells Israeli beauty products using minerals from the Dead Sea, claims he was driven out of Belfast and Glasgow and is now on the verge of fleeing Aberdeen with his pregnant wife.

“It’s a big deal to do this with the very pro-Palestinian SNP,” said Stein. “Israel is still widely misunderstood and we feel it is important to improve understanding of the Middle East conflict, to work towards a solution.”

Andy Murray, from SNP Friends of Palestine, said: “One question I would ask is how this group is funded and whether any money will flow to it from the Israeli government. It’s OK if the funding is from grassroots campaigners but more questionable if there is a political link.”

Last week, Mick Napier, from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity campaign, said his organisation could not afford a stall at the SNP conference this year due to price hikes. “We attended last year and had a good reception from SNP members. It does not surprise me if Israelis are trying to get a toehold but I think this new group will face hostility and slim pickings at the conference.”

Last year, more than a dozen SNP MPs attended a protest when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, visited London. The rally saw hundreds of pro-Palestinian protestors square off against about 50 pro-Israel demonstrators.

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