Humza Yousaf, the first minister of Scotland, faces renewed criticism over alleged ties to Hamas years ago after he said recently that anti-Israel protests, including those calling for an immediate ceasefire, should “absolutely” have gone forward on Remembrance Day.
Nov. 11, also called Armistice Day, marks the end of World War I. A minute of silence is observed nationally in the United Kingdom that day.
The first minister holds the highest office in Scotland and leads its devolved government, which is subordinate to the British government in Westminster. Yousaf does not hold power over foreign policy but has used his public platform to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Yousaf said it was “disgraceful” that Suella Braverman was sacked from her role as British home secretary on Monday for suggesting that anti-Israel demonstrations were “hate marches.”
“You either support an immediate ceasefire, as the Scottish government has been calling for, for many weeks, or you’re frankly enabling the suffering of innocent men, women and children, almost 10,000 of whom have lost their lives, including over 4,000 children,” Yousaf told reporters. “I want Scotland to absolutely be on the right side of history.”
Jerusalem—echoed at times by Washington—has said that a ceasefire would benefit the Hamas terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip. Washington has repeatedly pushed for “humanitarian pauses,” which it says are different from ceasefires.
“Any calls for a ceasefire are in effect gestures of support for Hamas,” Gary Mond, chair of the UK’s National Jewish Assembly, one of several community representative bodies, told JNS. “A ceasefire will allow Hamas to regroup, rearm, and eventually, in the fullness of time, repeat the genocidal massacre of Oct. 7.”
“It was totally unacceptable to the British population, which wants to show its profound gratitude to those who gave their lives to save our country, often against Nazis and Nazi-inspired regimes like Hamas, for their day of thanks to have been interrupted by antisemitic hate marches,” Mond added.
There have been many banners that appear to celebrate Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel and many antisemitic chants at recent anti-Israel demonstrations, including those that occurred on Nov. 11.
Since Oct. 7, British police have reportedly arrested almost 200 people for acts of antisemitism, Islamophobia and public order offenses, such as throwing fireworks towards officers.
‘An apologist for antisemitism’
Yousaf comes from the Scottish National Party (SNP), which self-identifies as “center-left and social democratic,” and has a power-sharing agreement with the Greens. It is part of the European Greens, which stands “for the sustainable development of humanity on planet Earth, a mode of development respectful of human rights and built upon the values of environmental responsibility, freedom, justice, diversity and non-violence.”
Craig Hoy, chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, urged Yousaf to end the SNP’s arrangement with the Greens after a Green member of the Scottish Parliament, Maggie Chapman, said Israel was to blame for the Oct. 7 attack. Failure to distance his party from such a claim would make Yousaf “an apologist for antisemitism,” Hoy said.
Chapman, who has refused to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism, attributed Hamas’s attack on Israel to “apartheid, illegal occupation and imperial aggression.”
A Greens spokesman told Holyrood magazine that the party condemns Hamas “without hesitation,” but that “Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine must be recognized as the root cause of these cycles of violence.”
By refusing to condemn Chapman’s “disgraceful remarks about Israel, Yousaf is failing to defend the reality of the multiracial nature of the modern State of Israel,” said Mond, of the National Jewish Assembly.
He “should reply that the real apartheid states in the Middle East lie elsewhere, where Jews were expelled and racism against minorities abounds.”
‘What kind of leverage Hamas had?’
Earlier this year, Yousaf faced backlash amid his bid to lead his party when it emerged that he had organized and participated in a 2008 meeting between former Hamas commander Mohammad Sawalha and Scottish government officials.
Yousaf was a parliamentary aide to Bashir Ahmad, a member of the Scottish Parliament, at the time. Two years beforehand, the BBC had identified Sawalha as a key Hamas strategist.
Then 22, Yousaf has claimed that he was unaware of Sawalha’s links to the Gaza-based terror group. But the latter was not the only apparent extremist that Yousaf invited to meet with Scottish politicians while he was working for Ahmad.
Anas Altikriti, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood in the United Kingdom and Iraq, was also present at the 2008 meeting reportedly. Altikriti had faced scrutiny for seemingly endorsing Iraqi “resistance” against British and U.S. troops in 2006, and condemned the decision of Muslim leaders to attend Holocaust Memorial Day events.
Ismail Patel, who has backed the late French Holocaust-denier Roger Garaudy, was also reportedly present at the 2008 meeting. Patel founded the anti-Israel Friends of Al-Aqsa organization in 1997 and openly defended Hamas prior to the UK government’s proscription of the terror group in 2021. He has publicly endorsed violence against adulterers.
Throughout the late 2000s, Yousaf helped found and co-ran the Scottish Islamic Foundation, which experts have called an “entry-level” Islamist organization. (SIF had fiercely denied links to extremism.)
Faran Jeffery, director of general operations at the Midstone Centre for International Affairs, a national security think tank, told JNS that journalists have not adequately probed Yousaf’s family connections to Gaza, as well as his meetings with radicals.
Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, is “an anti-Israel activist with family in Hamas-controlled Gaza,” Jeffery said. “The question that immediately comes to my head, from the perspective of national security, is what kind of leverage Hamas had on El-Nakla through her family in Gaza?”
Hamas had full control of Gaza prior to the current war. The terror organization has “executed Gazans after declaring them as ‘collaborators,’ and under Hamas rule, there was no such thing as freedom in Gaza,” Jeffery said.
“If you were living in Gaza under Hamas rule, there’s simply no way you could have avoided contact with Hamas,” he added. “So the question nobody seems to be asking is what kind of influence Hamas may have had on Yousaf through El-Nakla and her family in Gaza?” he added.
“If there was a Scottish politician, whose in-laws were living in ISIS-controlled territory in the Middle East, would that not have raised eyebrows and then could that politician ever hope to become the first minister of Scotland? I think not,” he said. “But that is exactly what seems to have happened in Yousaf’s case.”
El-Nakla, a local council representative for the Scottish National Party, has also called for a ceasefire.