By Justin Cohen, on a trip to Bradford with the Israel Ambassador
“I work in accountancy,” I told the taxi driver hesitantly when he asked what I do for a living. “I’m here for meetings.” As friendly and chatty as the driver was, revealing I was there as a journalist for a Jewish newspaper, never mind covering the visit of the Israeli ambassador, seemed a bad idea.
The spillover of the Middle East conflict into Britain would sadly have made me reluctant to reveal the reason for my visit to strangers wherever I’d been. But this was Bradford, represented by George Galloway and David Ward.
If Galloway continues to attack Israel, refusing to debate with Israelis and calling for the place he represents to be “Israel-free” – and if Ward launches tirades against the Jewish state – presumably it plays overwhelmingly well in their constituencies which are home to large Muslim populations. Or so I presumed.
So, as we continued chatting on route to my interview with Daniel Taub, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my Asian driver say Galloway doesn’t speak for all and was “in a world of his own” on some issues.
“I’m guessing you’re Jewish,” the driver asked, to my surprise, as we approached our destination, mentioning his Brooklyn relative’s Jewish neighbours when I confirmed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll be fine here.”
And it turns out he wasn’t alone in those views on Galloway. As I walked around the city surveying local opinion (announcing myself as being a journalist for the Jewish News) one Muslim woman wearing the traditional hijab told me: “Everyone should be welcome in Bradford.” While the Middle East crisis was a tragedy, Galloway was “aggressive” in his views and isn’t going about things in the right way, she added. She admitted, though, that attitudes were split.
One young Muslim man suggested it was Galloway had made the comments for electoral gain and that ordinary Israelis wanting to visit had no control over events thousands of miles away.
His friend and fellow student was quick to differentiate between Jews, Israelis and “Zionists” – saying there was a tendency among some to group Jews together in the same way some paint all Muslims as terrorists. But he said everyone should be allowed in Bradford and he’d be happy to talk to an Israeli. Admittedly, he wasn’t aware the ambassador was metres away.
He added that there were many similarities between Jews and Muslims. Opposition to Galloway’s latest vile comment, it seems, is another to add to the list.
While I wouldn’t for a moment claim my brief time in Bradford offered scientific evidence or proved Galloway is alone [that he has a keen following is not in doubt], it was heartening to know that even in this patch many profoundly disagree with his “Israel-free” comment.
At a time when Jewish security is under the spotlight, it’s also worth noting that not one person raised their voice or an objection when I said who I worked for.