By Sharon Bar-li

ON Thursday, the Israeli and Scottish football teams face off against each other to qualify for the European Championship. Despite a clash on the football pitch, Israel and Scotland share many a commonality and there is much for us to celebrate.

Scotland is well known for its progressive and diverse society, values which are part and parcel of the Israeli way of life. This was wonderfully captured in our last meeting on the football pitch, which ended in a draw following a late goal coming quickly after a magnificent pass between a Muslim and a Jewish player on the Israeli team. Ultimately, we work best when we work together.

The Scottish-Israeli connection pre-dates the establishment of the State of Israel, when Jews fleeing persecution in Europe in the late 19th century were welcomed on to Scottish shores. This early acceptance and integration of the Jewish people nurtured many strong advocates who believed in the Zionist idea – that the Jewish people should establish a state of their own in their historic homeland.

From Arthur Balfour, famous for issuing the Balfour declaration, to Winnie Ewing, a founder of the SNP who took inspiration from the struggle of the Israeli people, our histories have long been intertwined. It would be remiss of me to forget the contribution of Willie MacRae, a Scottish naval officer and lawyer, who moved to Israel to teach at the University of Haifa and used his expertise to help author our maritime law. And it was Scottish knowledge, in the form of master distiller Dr Jim Swan, which helped establish Israel’s very first whisky distillery.

Beyond the histories we share, we also face common challenges. In these tumultuous times, global cooperation in tackling the new and deadly coronavirus and working towards sustainable development is imperative for us to build a better future. And the fruits of Israeli-Scottish collaboration are already coming into their own.

With the coronavirus pandemic hitting countries across the globe, research cooperation between the University of Glasgow and Tel Aviv University into respiratory viruses has become more important than ever. Such research could pave the way to developing new treatments for Covid-19, potentially saving thousands of lives.

Our cooperation also makes us stronger in withstanding the economic fallout of the pandemic. Both Scotland and Israel boast small but strong economies, with healthy and vibrant finance and business sectors. As the coronavirus stops us from meeting and makes investors more wary, the well-established banks of Scotland and new financial start-ups of Israel are well placed to work together to create strong partnerships capable of withstanding economic pressure.

Tackling the climate crisis is another burning issue on the agenda for both Israel and Scotland. Bright minds in both of our vibrant startup scenes are harnessing technological innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to promote advances in CleanTech, precision agriculture to enhance food security, and smart mobility including ultra-low emission vehicles. And opportunities abound for further areas where we can share ideas and expertise, from designing smart cities to developing renewable fuels to answering the needs of an ageing population.

Therefore, when I look to the future, I see clear benefits for both Scotland and Israel in strengthening our bonds and exploring the potential for ever greater cooperation. It is perhaps symbolic that, even with the rivalry to take place on the f ootball pitch, fans of both teams will be draped in blue and white.

Sharon Bar-li is Deputy Ambassador in the Israeli Embassy to the UK