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.


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.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.