London Jews Should Prepare for a Mayoral Campaign of Hate

George Galloway’s race to be mayor spells an uneasy 11 months for the capital’s 250,000 Jews.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Respect Party Leader George Galloway, April 22, 2015.
Respect Party Leader George Galloway, April 22, 2015. Credit: AP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

On July 4, a small band of neo-Nazis are planning to march through Golders Green in North London, on what the organizers are calling an “anti-Jewification demonstration.” Naturally, the event has provoked an outcry across the political spectrum, and if the march eventually goes ahead, the marchers are certain to be outnumbered by police, journalists and counter demonstrators of every ideological shade and hue. Since it will be almost exactly 10 months before Londoners next go to the polls to elect a mayor and city assembly, some of the prospective candidates will most likely be there. One of those candidates, should he choose to attend, will draw all the attention and most of the hate away from the neo-Nazis.

Fresh from last month’s landslide defeat in Bradford, where he lost his seat in Britain’s parliamentary election, George Galloway has bounced back and is running in the most high-profile race of his controversial career. Galloway is the man who declared Bradford “an Israel-free zone,” was a champion of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and is today the star broadcaster on Iranian and Kremlin propaganda TV channels. The prospect of him campaigning for the next 11 months in a city that’s home to some 250,000 Jewish citizens is already causing a shudder to pass through the community.

Galloway, of course, has no chance of winning the election. But his flamboyant personality and rabble-rousing tactics ensure he will dominate the tone of the campaign. Since his expulsion from the Labour Party in 2003 for advocating that British troops in Iraq disobey orders, he has remained in politics by exploiting racial and communal tensions.

In 2005, he won the London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow for his new Respect Party, defeating incumbent Labour candidate Oona King. King, who is half-Jewish, accused Respect campaigners of urging Muslim voters not to vote for the “Jewish candidate.” In the 2010 election he failed to win another seat in London, but in 2012 won a by-election in Bradford, the northern British city with the highest proportion of Asian voters, by exploiting a rift between two influential Pakistani clans. Last month, he lost the seat to Labour’s Naz Shah by a massive majority, despite his supporters having embarked on a vicious smear campaign against Shah – which included digging up details of her past in Pakistan.

Upon hearing the result he declared, “There will be others who are already celebrating: the venal, the vile, the racists and the Zionists will all be celebrating.” Four days before the election, Ben Judah, a reporter for Politico, was attacked in Bradford by Galloway’s supporters, who shouted at him, “Get out you fucking Jew!”

So it’s no surprise that the Jews of London are very apprehensive at the thought of Galloway and his brand of politics featuring across their city. “Galloway is a conspiracy theorist,” says Judah, who has written extensively about the British Jewish community, “and he’s going to be whipping up this paranoia in London, just like the racist British National Party used to make life unpleasant for people in places they were running. This is going to stress the Jewish community and divert all its energy and reinforce a paranoid atmosphere, where people will be talking about nothing but Galloway.”

The main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, have yet to select their candidates to replace Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson, who is not running for a third term. In the meantime, Galloway has the race to himself and is rarely out of the television and radio studios – the mainstream broadcasters know his notoriety is always good for ratings.

Despite not having a major party backing him, Galloway will not lack for publicity. He has the third-largest following of any British politician on Twitter, and his weekly shows on Iran’s Press TV and the Kremlin’s Russia Today – which together pay him over 250,000 pounds (about $390,000) annually – so Russia and Iran will effectively be bankrolling his campaign.

Two years ago, Galloway refused to take part in a debate with a British-Jewish student at Oxford University, walking out after learning his opponent also had Israeli citizenship. However, Galloway regularly threatens to sue anyone who calls him anti-Semitic. To bolster his claim that he’s against racism and Zionists, not Jews, he will trot out his friend, the former Israeli Gilad Atzmon, who blames the Jews for the Holocaust and is so toxically anti-Semitic, even the Palestine Solidarity Campaign won’t allow him at its events. He can probably rely also on a chorus line from the pro-Iranian, Hasidic Neturei Karta sect to turn up at his rallies.

The real damage the Galloway campaign is set to cause, though, is to the delicate relationship between religious communities in London. Just as he did in Bethnal Green and Bradford, he will try to inflame feelings in the Muslim community with “dog-whistle” tactics and through whisper campaigns by his supporters. This could put pressure on Sadiq Khan, one of the leading Labour figures hoping to become the party’s candidate: the British-Pakistani has worked hard recently to build a good relationship with the Jewish community.

So far, in the early weeks of his campaign, Galloway has targeted “the bankers” of London’s financial sector as his main target. Whatever his potential voters understand from this, it sets the scene for the entry of the leading local Conservative politician, widely expected to receive his party’s candidacy – environmentalist and maverick MP Zac Goldsmith, son of controversial Jewish financier Jimmy Goldsmith. Not a practicing Jew himself, Goldsmith is married to a member of the most famous Jewish banking family ever, the Rothschilds.

It will be surprising if Galloway receives more than 10 percent of the vote on election day, but 11 months of incitement by the Galloway camp against Muslim “sellouts” and Goldsmith-Rothschild “bankers” will sorely test the tolerance and peace of mind of all London’s communities.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (R) presents then British MP George Galloway with a map negating Israel’s existence, in a photo released by Hamas in 2009. (Reuters)

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