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.

Getty
Show Hide image

What Labour MPs who want to elect the shadow cabinet are forgetting

The idea is to push Jeremy Corbyn to build an ideologically broad team, but it distracts from the real hurdle – management.

Labour MPs who have been critical of Jeremy Corbyn are pushing to vote for shadow cabinet members – rather than having all the posts appointed by the leader.

Most of the parliamentary Labour party who are not Corbyn loyalists believe this should be the “olive branch” he offers them, in order to put his recent words about “unity” and “wiping the slate clean” into action.

Corbyn and his allies have refused to consider such an idea outside of a “wider” democratisation of the party – saying that Labour members should also get a say in who’s on the frontbench. It’s also thought Corbyn is reluctant due to the shadow cabinet having three representatives on the National Executive Committee. He wouldn’t want his opponents voting for those, tipping the balance of the Committee back towards centrists.

Shadow cabinet elections were a longstanding convention for Labour in opposition until Ed Miliband urged the party to vote against them in 2011. Labour MPs on different wings of the party believe a return to the system would avoid Labour’s frontbench being populated solely by Corbyn’s ideological wing.

But there is a complication here (aside from the idea of a party leader having to run an effective opposition with their opponents in key shadow cabinet positions).

Proponents of shadow cabinet elections say they would help to make Labour a broad church. But really they could put those in the “make-it-work” camp who initially helped form Corbyn’s team in a difficult position. Initially conciliatory MPs like Thangam Debonnaire and Heidi Alexander have since left their posts, revealing frustration more at Corbyn’s management style than policy direction. Chi Onwurah MP, who remains a shadow minister, has also expressed such concerns.

One senior Labour MP points out that the problem with shadow cabinet elections lies in those who left Corbyn’s shadow cabinet but had wanted to cooperate – not in bringing ideological opponents into the fold.

“There were lots of people on his team who actually liked Jeremy, and wanted to make policy with him,” they tell me. “And many of them eventually felt they had to leave because of how difficult it was to work with him. They wanted to stay but couldn’t. If people like that couldn’t stay, will they go back? It will be much harder for him to show them he can work differently.”

One of the “make-it-work” faction voices their concern about returning to the shadow cabinet via elections for this reason. “A lot of us [who left] are still really interested in our policy areas and would be happy to help if they asked,” they say. “But it was too difficult to be taken seriously when you were actually in those shadow cabinet meetings.”

My source describes a non-collegiate approach in meetings around the shadow cabinet table, where Corbyn would read out pre-written opening statements and responses when they delivered their ideas. “It was like he wasn’t really listening.”

The plan to reintroduce shadow cabinet elections barely left the ground in a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee on Saturday night, on the eve of Labour conference.

This is in spite of Labour MPs urging the NEC to make a decision on the matter soon. Jon Ashworth, an NEC member and shadow minister, told me shortly after Corbyn’s victory speech that this would be “a good way of bringing people back” in to the team, and was determined to “get some resolution on the issue” soon.

It doesn’t look like we’ll get that yet. But for some who have already tried serving on the frontbench, it’s a distraction from what is for them a management – rather than an ideological – problem.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.