Julian Mann has been vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire since 2000. Before ordination he was a reporter for Retail Week.
Those of us who believe that Israel has the right to exist and to defend its citizens should defy Respect MP George Galloway’s call for a boycott of Israeli goods and services in Bradford. Next time, God willing, I am in Bradford, which is a scenic city with some excellent curry houses, I certainly intend to buy something imported from Israel. But it would constitute a very grave threat indeed to freedom of expression in our country if Galloway were prosecuted for hate speech.
He did not incite violence or illegal activity against Jewish people, Israeli citizens or Gentile pro-Zionists like myself. He used the phrase ‘we don’t want’ in relation to Israeli goods and services in Bradford, academics teaching at its university and tourists visiting the city. He was thus expressing an aspiration on behalf of himself and of those who think like him.
What law has he broken? If he has broken any law by speaking his mind in this way, then surely that law has no place in a free society.
Hotel chain Travelodge has just announced that it is removing Gideons’ Bibles from its rooms because of its professed commitment to ‘diversity’. I would argue that this decision is incoherent, petty and ultimately inhumane. Many travellers down the years, overwhelmed with a sense of purposelessness and even despair, have come to a saving faith in the living Jesus Christ through reading Gideons’ Bibles in their hotel rooms.
I am not calling on Christians to boycott Travelodge but I have myself made the decision to switch to Premier Inn because that company is allowing the true Word of God in its rooms instead of hiding it behind the reception desk.
But if Galloway were charged with hate speech by West Yorkshire Police following its current investigation and successfully prosecuted, then why not any Christian who called on his or her fellow believers to boycott Travelodge?
The message of Christianity is controversial in Britain today because there are some very politically incorrect statements in the Bible. A church pastor recently removed a notice mentioning hell following a complaint to local police. This self-censorship under official pressure occurred despite the fact that Jesus in the Gospels taught clearly about the reality of hell for those who reject his divine authority. Support for Israel’s right to defend itself is also controversial in some influential circles in the UK.
Freely expressing those opinions could be curtailed if Galloway were prosecuted for his eccentric and easily ignored aspiration to see Bradford become an Israel-free zone.