George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West, has been accused by Oxford students of anti-Semitism.
Mr Galloway “stormed out” of a debate at Christ Church on Wednesday evening, upon finding out that his opponent, Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year PPEist at Brasenose, was an Israeli citizen.
After arriving to the debate two hours late, Mr Galloway had spoken for ten minutes in favour of the motion ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’, before giving way to Aslan-Levy.
Less than three minutes into Aslan-Levy’s speech against the motion, Galloway was made aware that his opponent was an Israeli citizen.
“I have been misled,” Mr Galloway then commented, interrupting Aslan-Levy’s speech. “I don’t debate with Israelis”. He then left the room with his wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, as some members of the audience shouted out, “racist!” He was then escorted out of Christ Church by a college porter.
When asked to explain why Aslan-Levy’s nationality prompted him to abandon the debate, Galloway stated that “I don’t recognise Israel.”
In a statement late on Wednesday evening Galloway explained that “I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel.
“The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.” Mr Galloway is a leading political proponent of the campaign to ‘boycott’ Israeli goods, services and – it emerged on Wednesday – people.
After the debate Aslan-Levy said that “I am appalled that an MP would storm out of a debate with me for no reason other than my heritage.
“To refuse to talk to someone just because of their nationality is pure racism, and totally unacceptable for a member of parliament.”
Aslan-Levy later told the Daily Mail that “[Mr Galloway] clearly had a problem not because I am Israeli – I’m sure he would have talked to an Israeli Arab, he didn’t want to talk to me because I am an Israeli Jew.”
He argued that the Respect MP should discontinue his membership of the House of Commons. “I absolutely do not think someone with those kind of views should be allowed to continue as a Member of Parliament”, he said.
Mahmood Naji, the organiser of the debate, told Cherwell that he “condemned Mr Galloway’s walkout, on the basis of his opponent’s nationality.”
He went on to deny that he had “misled” the MP. “At no point during my email exchange with Mr Galloway’s secretary was Eylon’s nationality ever brought up or mentioned.” He added, “nor do I expect to have to tell the speaker what his opponent’s nationality is.”
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee, which describes itself as “the largest coalition of Palestinian unions, mass organisations, refugee networks and NGOs that leads and and sets the guidelines for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement”, issued a statement to Cherwell on Thursday.
They explained that whilst BDS “has called for a boycott of Israel, its complicit institutions, international corporations…and [its] official representatives” the campaign “does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views.
“The global BDS movement has consistently adopted a rights-based approach and an anti-racist platform that rejects all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”
Oxford Student newspaper accused of printing “libel”
Mr Galloway also denied making comments attributed to him in last week’s Oxford Student newspaper.
The comments, “I intend to annihilate [Aslan-Levy] using the facts of the case”, were allegedly made by a spokesperson on Mr Galloway’s behalf. Matt Handley, the Oxford Student’s News Editor, told Cherwell that the comment was made in “a telephone conversation with Galloway’s official press office.
“They gave us the explicit authority to quote Galloway directly as saying those words”, the second-year student at St Hugh’s claimed.
However Mr Galloway denied ever having made the comments, branding them as “defamatory”. He accused Aslan-Levy, who referred to the article in his speech, as “repeating a libel”.
The OxStu editors, Jonathan Tomlin and James Restall, defended the way in which Galloway was quoted in the paper, “The comment was given by an official spokesperson for Galloway, who gave us the explicit authority to quote Galloway himself. It is standard practice for spokespeople to speak for people.”
Mr Galloway claimed that he had “never spoken to the Oxford student press”. However Cherwell interviewed the MP in October last year.
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