After being banned entry to the country for over a year, George Galloway, the outspoken former British Member of Parliament, is blazing his way across Canada with a speaking tour that addresses everything from freedom of speech to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Galloway is scheduled to speak in 10 cities in 11 days. He kicked off his tour in Toronto on Tuesday, spoke in Montreal on Wednesday, and will make his way through Halifax, Hamilton, Vancouver, Calgary, Yellowknife, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa.
The anti-war activist and maverick politician was due to speak at a public forum in Canada last year, but was barred from the country for his role in shipping five convoys of humanitarian aid to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and meeting with officials from Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization according to Canadian law.
A Federal Court judge has since overturned the ruling.
"As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted 18 months ago," Galloway told a laughing audience as he began his speech at York University in Toronto.
Galloway's ban has raised the profile of his speaking tour. “We probably owe something to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney,” said James Clarke, Spokesperson of the Defend Free Speech Campaign, the chief organizer of the tour.
Over five hundred people flocked to hear Galloway’s speech in Toronto. The day before the Montreal event, tickets had nearly sold out, said Ehab Lotayef of Canada Boat Gaza, the co-organizers of the tour. Similar responses are expected in the other cities.
The talks, which include references to a one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have raised the ire of Canadian pro-Israel and right-wing Jewish organizations.
An e-mail published by the Canadian paper, the National Post, revealed what it called “a bizarro world in which Zionists pose as Palestinians to shout down a bearded Scot”.
The e-mail was circulated among Galloway’s opponents and suggests ways that members can sabotage the speeches. These include planting disruptive questions and buying tickets on masse.
Most remarkable was the advice on dress and demeanor to avoid detection. “If they do not know your face, wear a keffiyeh or hijab or hippy-type clothing (blue jeans, Birkenstock sandals with socks, hand-woven Guatemalan man-purses, long scarves on men, etc.)”
“If you’re a middle-age man with a ponytail, you’ll fit in just fine,” wrote the author Joanne Hill, a freelance reporter for the Jewish Tribune. “If I could, I would pretend to be a confused pro-Palestinian lefty.”
"My e-mail was personal and was not intended for publication. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the Jewish Tribune,” Hill told Haaretz.
Krisna Saravanamuttu, President of the York Federation of Students, invited Galloway to speak and said he was doubtful about the e-mail, as he was not aware that leftists have a specific style of dress.
“I say that in the most sarcastic way I can. I was confused – should everyone show up looking like Yasser Arafat? Maybe wear a Che Guevara hat?”
More seriously, Saravanamuttu added that there was no need for critics to seek disguise, as the event was open to all voices.
“Of course there were people in the crowd who were critical. Here at the student union we welcome that, debate is the entire purpose of the event”.
Clarke told Haaretz that the e-mail was particularly ‘amusing’ as the events are open to all. “We have no objection to people coming to criticize [Galloway], you don’t have to dress up”.
Outside the hallway in Toronto, approximately 100 people gathered holding placards reading ‘Go away Galloway’ and other slogans, and waving the flag of Israel.
"This was a small but very loud minority of people who tried to drown out the talk in the lecture theater," said Saravanamuttu.
The protest was the coordinated effort of the controversial right-wing Jewish Defense League – Canada (JDL). The JDL was previously banned from York University for harassment of students on campus.
Meir Weinstein, National Director of JDL Canada had urged the Canadian authorities to ban Galloway.
“Now that he is here, it is important that he be exposed and that we confront him so that people can be made aware of his associations [with Hamas]” and, through them, believes Weinstein “with Iran”.
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