Opinion: When it comes to George, it's more gall than Galloway
George Galloway has surprised me.
George is someone I know and count as a colleague and a friend (which I am sure will garner a letter or two to our poor harangued editor). No, I do not agree with most of his positions, especially those he takes on Israel, but I am happy to debate him on various radio and television programmes. In private we get along well.
George will tell you he is not an anti-Semite - he has the court documents to prove it. In principle I believe him; in the old sense of the word he is not. Ring him on the radio or on television and talk about gassing Jews or Holocaust denial and he will rightly slam the phone down on you. But anti-Semitism is an ever evolving and morphing slur against the Jews. The modern version denies the Jews a state or any legitimacy. This unfortunately is what happened at Galloway's Oxford debate.
In his mind George Galloway will consider himself a fair man, sticking up for the little guy, (in his own way he does); in his opinion -rightly or wrongly- the little guy is the Palestinians. It is a view, as despicably as it is sometimes put across towards Israel that he is entitled to.
But last week at Oxford University, George crossed a line and as a socialist and a liberal he should not be proud. First of all, walking out of a debate, for a man of Galloway's rhetorical and oratorical skills is pure cowardice. I had a rule at TalkSPORT Radio, if in a heated debate the caller slammed down the phone it was a knock-out win on my part. As a pugilist, George should know the first rule is to never walk away from a fight - he did.
The stunt planned or not, showed more gall than Galloway. It even has Palestinian supporters squirming.
The reason George walked out of the debate showed him at best to be intellectually weak or at worst a racist. It is one thing to refuse a political figure but Eylon Aslan-Levy, the young Oxford student he walked out on -he's a dual national who hails from Finchley, his parents are Israeli- is not a politician and is as responsible for his nationality as one is for their skin colour.
How can George not recognise Israel - it is there on the map, it exists whether he wants it to or not. How does he propose that it not exist? If he can't even recognise Israel's presence how does he even begin to solve the seemingly intractable solutions of the Middle East?
Will George Galloway not debate any Israeli? What about Ilan Pappé or Gilad Atzmon who served in the IDF? That shows just how facile his position is.
This is not a first for George. One night when he was on TalkSPORT (I had since left the station), I believe it was during Operation Cast Lead, George was taking calls on the subject and being quite brutal to Israel as usual. Israeli supporting callers to his programme were having a hard time. It is not easy dealing with any host, who naturally has the upper hand - but to be fair, the callers on "our side" were pretty weak (we need more media training as a people).
George's producer is a friend. I called him, asking: "Why don't you get Mark Regev (the Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman) on the line? I have some contacts and could get him for you." Oh no, my friend replied, "George will not speak to any Israeli official, he doesn't recognize them." I was dumbstruck. It seemed a pretty shallow reason then and it does now.
Worse still, speaking as a broadcaster, it was a real shame because it would have made for great radio, a compelling listen and maybe would have brought some light and shade to both sides of the argument.
That's what could have happened at Oxford last week. Maybe George realized he met his match in a third year university student and bailed. George is a master of stagecraft and perchance he thought this stunt was all he had left. Calling Israel an "apartheid state" as George did is just a handy excuse. It is a bully's position. To the left rhetoric counts more than fact. At least at Oxford this was exposed for what it is. It is, unfortunately, a form of racism and xenophobia that makes it anti-Semitic.
In a month of Gerald Scarfe cartoons, Liberal Democrat MP David Ward's unsophisticated idiocy and now George Galloway's debate debacle, it is clear that on substance the Left and those who hate Israel have only stunts, grotesque caricatures and misinformed rhetoric. We must continue to make our case quietly, confidently and factually.
For this young Eylon Aslan-Levy has slung a stone of truth into the eye of Galloway's Goliath.
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