LONDON – Yorkshire police confirmed they have launched an investigation into maverick MP George Galloway who last week declared the northern city of Bradford, an “Israel-free zone.”
The controversial MP has always been a passionate advocate for Palestinians, though fiercely denies he is anti-Semitic.
His Bradford-West constituency is predominantly Muslim, most of whom have strong ties to Pakistan, and he was elected on his Respect Party ticket, after he was ejected from the Labor Party in 2003 over differences on Iraq.
His latest outburst, captured on video during a meeting in Leeds last weekend and widely circulated on social media, has prompted heated exchanges on numerous Internet outlets.
Standing in front of a Palestinian flag Galloway said: “We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone. We don’t want any Israeli goods. We don’t want any Israeli services. We don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college. We don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford, even if any of them had thought of doing so. We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel.”
As several social media critics have jokingly suggested that Bradford now markets itself directly to Israelis, his views were endorsed by David Ward MP, who represents another part of Bradford in Parliament and who is no stranger to attacking Israel either.
Last month Ward tweeted that he would fire rockets at Israel were he living in Gaza, and on hearing Galloway’s latest rant, said that he did not go far enough.
He said he wanted to see something like the anti-apartheid movement, with sporting, cultural and academic boycotts, as well as economic sanctions to keep up pressure on Israel, which he said had continuously flouted UN resolutions.
“Why restrict it to a particular town? If you are going to do boycotts, divestments and sanctions simply for a particular city or part of the country, how is that going to do any good? What’s the point of that? It has to be a national movement.”
He said that, “of course” Israelis were welcome in Bradford.
“Our complaint is not with Jews, it is not with Israelis, it is with Israel and those who support the State of Israel. It is quite dangerous talk, because the danger is of course that anybody from a Jewish background – because people will not necessarily differentiate – is then subject to abuse and anti-Semitic acts. It’s a schoolboy error from someone who really should know better.”
Reacting to Galloway’s comments Conservative MP Robert Halfon, a former political director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, described them as shocking. ”This ill-considered rant will cause great offence to many,” he said. “Fortunately, I suspect most Bradford citizens are like British people as a whole: tolerant and decent – and will ignore Mr Galloway’s demands, treating them with the contempt they deserve.”
Nigel Grizzard of Bradford Synagogue described Mr Galloway’s comments as very extreme. “Israelis come to Bradford – people from Bradford go to Israel – there are many people I know in Bradford who have relatives in Israel,” he told BBC Radio Leeds. “And I think Mr Galloway’s comments are completely off the wall and nothing to do with the reality of today’s life in Bradford.”
Galloway is infamous for an anti-Israel incident at Oxford University in October 2013, when on discovering that he would share the platform with an Israeli student claimed that he didn’t “debate with Israelis.”
His withdrawal drew claims of racism.
Meanwhile, London saw yet another large-scale demonstration by pro-Palestinian supporters.
An estimated 20,000 marched through the West End to a rally where they heard speeches from among others, George Galloway MP.
A public appeal for money, launched on Friday night to help thousands of Gazans, has raised more than £4.5 million in less than 24 hours. The Department for International Development has pledged to match the first £2m. donated by the public to the Gaza Crisis Appeal, which it was claimed will help pay for food, water and shelter.
In Glasgow, the city council decided to display a Palestinian flag outside its building, in solidarity with casualties in Gaza.
The council said that it raised the flag over the city chambers on Friday, the Jewish Chronicle reported, in support of “innocent people who are being hurt in Gaza.”
In a letter to the mayor of Bethlehem, Glasgow’s Lord Provost Sadie Docherty, said the move was a gesture of “solidarity with Bethlehem and Palestine.”
Glasgow is twinned with Bethlehem.
Jews in Glasgow have expressed anger at the move.
Paul Morron, president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, said the decision had angered and hurt the city’s Jews.
“Flying the flag is the worst kind of gesture politics,” he said. “It does nothing to alleviate the suffering on either side of the conflict, nor does it bring peace closer by one single minute.”
The council said it had offered to meet Jewish representatives to discuss the issue.
JTA contributed to this report.