LONDON – Far-left British Member of Parliament George Galloway caused a storm at the Oxford Union Wednesday night when he walked out of a debate on Israel's presence in the West Bank the moment he discovered that the speaker debating him was an Israeli citizen.
- British MP Galloway heads to Gaza for further visit
- Haaretz exclusive: Organizer of Gaza flotilla sought assistance from Assad's office
- George Galloway tweets ‘long live Palestine’ to supporters after landslide U.K. by-election victory
- Oxford students expected to reject Israel boycott motion, Jewish student union says
- U.K. MP Galloway probed for declaring Bradford an 'Israel-free zone'
- Belfast politician: Cancel 'irresponsible' talk by MP seeking 'Israel-free zone'
- U.K. Labor Party ousts anti-Israel candidate
- Galloway to skip U.K. vote on Palestine - because proposal also recognizes Israel
The outspoken MP had been invited by the Oxford Union, a debating forum that in its 190 years of existence has hosted world leaders and bitter debates over a wide range of political and ideological issues, to speak in favor of the motion that "Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank." Against the motion was Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year student at Oxford University's Brasenose College.
After Galloway was allowed to speak for the motion for ten minutes, it was Aslan-Levy's turn. Shortly after he began his speech, Aslan-Levy said "we wanted peace, we got war.” Galloway was immediately concerned and asked whether the speaker was an Israeli. When Aslan-Levy confirmed that he was an Israeli, Galloway was having nothing of it. He took his coat and stood up, saying that "I don’t debate with Israelis. I’ve been misled. Sorry.” At the door he said "I don't recognize Israel and I don't debate with Israelis."
His walk-out was greeted by cries of surprise and the word "racism" from the students in the hall who applauded Aslan-Levy. Mahmood Naji, the student in charge of the debates who had been criticized in advance for inviting Galloway to begin with said after the incident that he condemned the action and that "at no point during my email exchange with Mr. Galloway's secretary was Eylon's nationality ever brought up or mentioned, nor do I expect to have to tell the speaker what his opponent's nationality is."
In a statement he put out later in the evening, Galloway said, "I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel. The reason is simple; No recognition, no normalization. Just boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated." Aslan-Levy accused Galloway of "pure racism."
The same day elsewhere in the United Kingdom, another Israel-related event at an English university ended prematurely when Israel's deputy ambassador to Britain, Alon Roth-Snir was forced to leave Essex University in Colchester because pro-Palestine protestors disrupted a scheduled lecture by the Israeli diplomat. The disturbances were so severe that university security guards had to evacuate Roth-Snir from the campus.
An Israel embassy spokesperson said, "These confused and violent students make a mockery of the very foundations of freedom of speech, a pillar of the academic world. Their actions shame Essex University and British academia, and damage a long tradition of positive academic exchange. Such behavior should be strongly condemned by all those who cherish democratic values."
Galloway was once a member of the Labour Party and represented a Glasgow constituency but was expelled for his speeches against the Iraq war in which he said that attacks against British troops in Iraq were legitimate. He has since succeeded twice in returning to parliament as the leader of the far-left Respect Party. He did so each time by shamelessly playing on the religious and ethnical feelings of voters in predominantly Muslim areas.
In 2009, at a Stop Gaza Massacre rally, Galloway said that "today, the Palestinian people in Gaza are the new Warsaw Ghetto, and those who are murdering them are the equivalent of those who murdered the Jews in Warsaw in 1943."
Galloway's assertion that he does not debate with Israelis is not entirely accurate as he has hosted Israelis on his television program on Iran's English-language Press TV in the past but these have tended to be a certain sort of Israeli, including the anti-Zionist academics Shlomo Sand and Ilan Pappe. But as a supporter of the more radical elements in the Palestinian and Arab camps, Galloway's refusal of "normalization" with Israel is in accordance with their principles and will further bolster his credentials as the leading anti-Israel politician in Britain. In some parts of the country, that seems to be the way to win elections.
Another Israel-related event at an English university ended prematurely, as Israel's deputy ambassador to Britain, Alon Roth-Snir, was forced to leave Essex University in Colchester as pro-Palestine protesters disrupted his scheduled lecture. The disturbances were so severe that university security guards had to evacuate Roth-Snir from the campus.
"These confused and violent students make a mockery of the very foundations of freedom of speech, a pillar of the academic world," an embassy spokesperson said. "Their actions shame Essex University and British academia, and damage a long tradition of positive academic exchange. Such behavior should be strongly condemned by all those who cherish democratic values."
Follow me on twitter @AnshelPfeffer