As the latest round of fighting in Gaza rages, Israel’s supporters in the UK are on the front line of another battle as the Jewish state comes under fire from the arts, unions and politicians.
So the visit of the country’s ambassador in the UK to a part of the country represented by George Galloway, one of its most vociferous critics, two weeks after he said Bradford should become an “Israel-free zone”, could hardly have been loaded with more significance.
“What we’ve done today is push back against extremists who are trying to close open spaces through intimidation,” Daniel Taub told Jewish News during the journey back to London at the end of a day that included meeting with council chiefs, Christian leaders and the local Jewish community, which had invited him.
“That’s what we have to do at every place where people are trying to cut down channels of dialogue and encroach on shared space. It’s important for Israel and also for Britain,” he said.
The 5-hour trip included meetings with the leaders of the local Christian community, the heads of the three political groups on Bradford council and an address at the city’s Reform Synagogue which also drew a large contingent from Leeds.
The visit came after the firebrand politician, at the height of the fighting between Israel and Gaza, said Bradford should be a place without Israeli academics, goods and tourists. He was this week interviewed under caution by police over the comments, with officers saying the issue would be referred to the CPS “for their consideration” once enquiries had been completed.
Taub – who highlighted the fact that the first Hebrew school in Tel Aviv was founded with the help of the Lord Mayor of Bradford – said:
“The thing I find most troubling with George Galloway is that this is a man who looks at the Middle East and his only area of concern is not Syria, where 170,000 people have been butchered, not Iraq where Christians are being brutally murdered, but the one country in the region where he could speak as objectionably as he does and still live to tell the tale.”
The Bradford West MP, Taub argued, was actually advocating “a tolerance-free zone, a progress-free zone, a future-free zone”.
He also rounded on comments by neighbouring Bradford MP David Ward – who apologised after saying he would “probably” fire rockets into Israel if he lived in Gaza – as well as the Lib Dems’ decision not to discipline him.
If Ward had not been guilty of bringing the party into disrepute, Taub said during a keynote address to Bradford Reform Synagogue, chief whip Don Foster should be considering if it had a reputation “worth having”.
And he told Jewish News: “The failure to discipline David Ward will damage the credibility of the comments that are made by the party in relation to the Middle East.”
Taub expressed “disappointment” at the decision to fly the Palestinian flag at Bradford’s city hall last month, saying he would have hoped both flags would have been raised as a powerful message of coexistence. But the envoy said he discovered during his visit that the real Bradford was one of co-operation and understanding.
Bradford Council leader David Green reportedly said there had been a frank exchange of views over the Gaza conflict when he and the leaders of the other two political groups met Taub. A council spokesman said politicians had been “clear that Galloway doesn’t speak on behalf of the district of Bradford” in regards to his remark.
But Taub was accused of a “deliberate provocation” by a senior Muslim leader after being pictured holding a giant Israeli flag during his trip. Zulfi Karim, secretary of the Bradford Council of Mosques, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “This is to Mr Galloway and the ambassador: please do not bring your politics on to the streets of Bradford to create disharmony among our communities. If you have concerns, share them in your embassy or in parliament or in a neutral place, not in Bradford.”
Taub was invited to the city by Rudi Leavor, chair of the reform shul, which has benefited from financial support from members of the local Muslim community.
Shul member Stanley Solomons, who travelled from Huddersfield for the talk, said Galloway was a “mischief-maker” whose interest was in getting himself re-elected. “It’s fantastic the ambassador is here to show solidarity.”
David Langfield, a non-Jewish friend of the shul, said: “Galloway is a very foolish man who has tainted this city’s welcome for all with his vile comments. The Israeli Ambassador is welcome here, like any other envoy.”
A small protest greeted Taub as he left the shul.