Yorkshire Police are to launch an investigation into comments made by the Respect MP George Galloway, who was caught on video standing in front of a Palestinian flag, declaring Bradford and "Israel-free zone".
The film, which was posted to social media, led to an outcry, with many lambasting the veteran politician for saying that Israelis would not be welcome in a British city. "We have received two separate complaints about comments attributed to George Galloway MP during a speech he gave at a public meeting in Leeds on August 2," said a spokesperson for the police. "We are currently investigating the complaints."
Within his speech, Galloway states: "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. And you have to do the same."
Galloway is not the only Bradford MP to stir up controversy over the conflict which has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians. Liberal Democrat MP David Ward issued what the party described as a "categorical apology", after posting a tweet suggesting that he would "probably" fire rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The Bradford East MP faced a furious backlash and was accused of inciting violence with the comments, but has insisted that his tweets were not intended to support Hamas. Ward has had a long-running dispute with the Lib Dem leadership over his use of language with regard to Israel. He also posted a tweet earlier this year calling Israel an "apartheid state" and saying that "Zionists" were "losing the battle".
On Thursday evening, Ward said Galloway had made a "schoolboy error", adding "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."
Ward said Mr Galloway had a long and in-depth knowledge of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, adding: "I applaud much of the work he has done over many years on the issue. But I am interested in a serious campaign to bring about change." Ward said there were now more than 75,000 signatures on a petition calling for a boycott of Israel and sanctions if the "military operations which endanger civilians in Gaza" do not cease. "This is a proper campaign," he said. "I'm not interested in a throwaway remark."
Galloway has been criticised previously for directing his anger at the actions of the Israeli government toward ordinary citizens of the country. Speaking at an event last year at Oxford University in favour of the motion "Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank", and less than three minutes into his opponent Eylon Aslan-Levy's speech, Galloway interrupted, asking "You said we. Are you an Israeli?"
Third year student Aslan-Levy answered "I am, yes." Galloway promptly stood up and replied: "I don't debate with Israelis, I've been misled, sorry." As the Bradford West representative left the room, a member of the audience shouted "racism", to which the MP replied: "I don't recognise Israel and I don't debate with Israelis." Another student added: "But he [Aslan-Levy]'s a person, he's a human being!"