LONDON — The Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, defied Bradford MP George Galloway’s declared ban on all things Israeli when he visited the northern city Monday, at the invitation of community leaders.
After meeting with Bradford councillors, Jewish community representatives, religious leaders and members of the public, Ambassador Taub said: “Bradford prides itself on dialogue, tolerance and cooperation and this is genuinely what I felt. Everyone there said that Galloway’s declaration was not the voice of Bradford — they made it clear that they distance themselves from it and this is not the true spirit of the city.”
Taub said he found it strange that Galloway had singled out the only country in the Middle East where he would be allowed to speak so objectionably yet still be allowed to live to see another day.
“It’s not an Israel-free zone you are talking about, George,” he said. “It’s a tolerance-free zone, a progress-free zone, a future-free zone.”
Taub’s visit followed outrage among the country’s Jewish and Israeli communities after Galloway declared his constituency of Bradford an Israel-free zone at a meeting of his Respect party earlier this month in nearby Leeds.
In the “declaration,” Galloway described Israel as an “illegal, barbarous and savage state,” and called for a blanket boycott on all Israeli products, services and people.
“We don’t even want Israeli tourists to come to Bradford, even if any of them had thought of doing so,” he declared.
He reiterated his remarks on stage at a recent anti-Israel demonstration held in central London, where he was cheered by tens of thousands.
Galloway’s declaration sparked vehement responses from the Jewish and Israeli communities, which accused him of blatant anti-Semitism. West Yorkshire police have been inundated with complaints against him and an online petition has called for him to be charged with criminal offenses, although it is still unclear if the Crown Prosecution Service will take legal action.
Also protesting Galloway’s declaration, a small group of Israelis and British Jews visited Bradford recently, handing out Israeli-made “Bamba” snacks and engaging with the public. The Israeli Forum Task Force wrote a letter to the city’s Lord Mayor last week, urging him to condemn the MP’s “vituperative, seditious and inherently anti-Semitic declaration.” The Lord Mayor’s office has told the IFTF that they will receive a reply.
Today, some 24.7% of Bradford’s residents are Muslim, but the city’s wool and textile industry was built by German Jewish immigrants in the early to mid-19th century. They were joined by Russian Jews fleeing pogroms in the late 1800s. In the 1940s these immigrants helped Jews fleeing the Holocaust and by 1945 there were two synagogues in the city, one Reform (founded in the 1870s) and the other Orthodox.
Today the Jewish community is in decline and there is one remaining Reform Judaism synagogue, which was rebuilt in 2013 with the help of the Muslim community. The city has boasted four Jewish mayors, from the 1860s to the 1980s.
In a speech to the Jewish community Monday yesterday, Taub explained Israel’s actions in Gaza.
‘That struggle between forces seeking to pull us back into a primitive past, and those trying to build a better future is part of a much wider battle’
“Every time Hamas takes cement and building materials that could have built houses, daycare centers and factories to build tunnels to infiltrate Israel, it steals that future,” he said. “Every time Hamas orders people to martyr themselves for its sake, to run onto the roofs of terrorist headquarters to shield them from attack, it robs them of their future.”
The ambassador also had strong words for the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, David Ward, who had tweeted: “If I were in Gaza, would I fire a rocket? Probably yes.”
“Isn’t it an insult to the Palestinians of Shajaiyeh who demonstrated against the terrorists who had taken their neighborhood hostage and were summarily executed by Hamas? Probably yes,” said Taub.
He also spoke of extremist elements in the UK trying to use intimidation to close down dialogue.
“That struggle between forces seeking to pull us back into a primitive past, and those trying to build a better future is part of a much wider battle being waged throughout our region, in Syria, in Iraq, and beyond,” he said. “That struggle is playing out here in the UK as well. In the tweets and on the streets. It’s surprisingly easy to tell who is on which side.”
“It’s important, not only for Israel, but also for British society, to keep cultural and intellectual channels open,” he summed up.