George Galloway: “I don't recognise Israel and I don't debate with Israelis.”

Galloway, MP for Bradford West, walked out of a debate with an Israeli student last night.

George Galloway has been accused of racism after walking out of a debate with an Oxford student because he was an Israeli citizen.

The debate, on the topic "Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank", was held in Christ Church College, Oxford. Galloway had already delivered his speech, in proposition, before his opponent Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year student of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Brasenose College, began. Shortly into Aslan-Levy’s speech, Galloway realised that he was an Israeli citizen.

The Cherwell's Tom Beardsworth reports:

“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, and was escorted out of Christ Church by a college porter…

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."

A video of the event shows the moment Galloway learned Aslan-Levy's nationality. In it, Galloway can be heard picking up on Aslan-Levy's use of the word "we" to describe Israel, and seen leaving the event saying, "I don't recognise Israel and I don't debate with Israelis":

Aslan-Levy later said that it was "pure racism" to refuse to talk to someone based on their nationality. Galloway spent much of yesterday evening defending his decision on Twitter, responding to accusations of xenophobia and racisim:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MP for Bradford West has also recently stirred controversy after his defence of Julian Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of rape. Galloway claimed that Assange was merely accused of "bad sexual etiquette", and argued that:

I mean not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them.

Following those comments, Salma Yaqoob, the leader of the Respect party of which Galloway is the only MP, quit, commenting that:

George Galloway’s comments on what constitutes rape are deeply disappointing and wrong.

Earlier that year, Galloway threatened to sue the New Statesman after Jemima Khan revealed his conversion to Islam. No case has been brought to date.

Update:

Galloway makes reference to the idea of "boycott divestment and sanctions" (BDS) in defending his choice to not debate Aslan-Levy. The Palestinian BDS National Committee, which co-ordinates the BDS movement, has released a statement today which reads, in part:

In its 2005 BDS Call, Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Israel, its complicit institutions, international corporations that sustain its occupation, colonization and apartheid, and official representatives of the state of Israel and its complicit institutions. BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with. [Emphasis added]

The moderator of the debate, Michael Baldwin, also got in touch to add:

I was disappointed that a possibly fruitful discussion was prematurely ended by Mr Galloway’s refusal to debate someone just because of their nationality. As he himself is a Palestinian citizen, he would rightly be indignant if an opponent of his were to refuse to debate him on the basis of his passport. I would encourage Mr Galloway to reconsider his position, which is open to accusations of xenophobia.

Updated with video. Quotes and headline more accurately reflect what was said. Updated again to add statements.

Galloway in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.