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Council pressed to cancel George Galloway event

George Galloway

George Galloway

Belfast City Council is facing calls to cancel an “irresponsible” speaking engagement for George Galloway amid heightened tensions over the Gaza conflict.

The local authority in Belfast has been asked by one of its members to review the booking at the publicly-owned Ulster Hall, where the Bradford West MP is due to speak on August 23.

West Yorkshire Police are investigating his recent comments urging people in Bradford to reject all Israeli goods, services, academics and tourists.

Democratic Unionist (DUP) councillor Brian Kingston said: “George Galloway goes far beyond calling for a boycott. He is rejecting and demonising an entire country and its people, describing it as illegal, barbarous and savage.

“We have grave concerns about the council providing a venue for this speaker at this time of heightened tension and believe it would be irresponsible to do so.”

Police have begun an investigation after the Respect MP declared Bradford “an Israel-free zone”.

In a speech which caused an outcry on social media, the veteran politician stated that Israelis were not welcome in the city where he has a constituency.

West Yorkshire Police said they were investigating his comments.

Mr Kingston asked the council to seek advice from police in Northern Ireland.

A spokeswoman for the local authority confirmed that the issue was being considered and legal advice was being sought.

She said: “The George Galloway event scheduled to take place at the Ulster Hall on Saturday 23 August has been booked by a third-party promoter.

“Belfast City Council has simply hired the venue to this promoter, who takes all responsibility for its planning and content. The council’s programming policy does not preclude political events organised by third-party promoters.”

Mr Galloway told the BBC it was a commercial contract with the Ulster Hall, which had been signed and sealed and would be delivered, except on terms of very severe compensation.

He added: “A great deal of money has already been spent, the tickets are going like hot cakes, so a great deal of income would be lost and that would be a very bad deal for the taxpayers in Belfast.”

In Northern Ireland many unionists back Israel’s right to defend itself against rockets from Gaza, while nationalists broadly oppose the invasion and highlight the human cost.

A plaque erected to former Israeli president Chaim Herzog at his birthplace in North Belfast has had to be removed after a number of recent attacks.

President Herzog was born in 1918, moved to Dublin, where he grew up, and his family later emigrated to Palestine.

He served in the British Army during the Second World War but after the conflict joined the Haganah Zionist military organisation to combat the revolts of Palestinian Arabs against Jewish settlement of Palestine.

Mr Kingston said the plaque had been removed due to an upsurge in attacks.

He added they have included the scrawling of anti-Israeli graffiti on the building and items being thrown at the plaque and house.

“This is a shocking indication of the level of tension and anti-Semitism which currently exists in parts of Belfast,” he said.

“It is disgraceful that this item of Belfast history has being repeatedly targeted due to its connection with Israel.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for the public to the dangerous level of intolerance and the anti-Israeli mentality which some are encouraging.”

Last month windows were smashed at a synagogue in the city.

 

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