George Galloway, the British member of Parliament who represents the district of West Bradford in Northern England, stormed out of the room at Oxford University last night in the middle of a debate when he learned that his opponent – a student who had just begun speaking – was Israeli.
The topic being debated at Oxford’s Christ Church College was: “Israel Should Withdraw Immediately From the West Bank.”
Galloway had already spoken in favor of the motion when the student who opposed the motion, Eylon Aslan-Levy, began to speak. Aslan-Levy made it clear that his disagreement with the motion was not the question of withdrawal, as he favors an “end to the Occupation.”
But what Aslan-Levy pointed out was the critical word in the debate topic, “whether Israel should withdraw immediately. Overnight. Unilaterally. Without any guarantees from the Palestinians to match such dramatic concessions by calling an end to this century-old conflict.”
The student went on to explain how everyone should have learned a lesson from the Disengagement – the unilateral withdrawal of all Israelis, living and dead, from Gaza in 2005 – which Aslan-Levy said he supported at the time. He explained why:
An immediate withdrawal denies Israelis and Palestinians the two essential goods that a peace treaty would secure: firstly, a framework for safety, security and cooperation; secondly, binding promises by each party to irrevocably terminate all claims or states of belligerency against the other. To forego the one chance to sign for peace on the dotted line would leave the region vulnerable, insecure, and in a perpetual state of war.
This is the lesson from the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which I supported – out of the same misguided faith that the cards were in Israel’s hands. Israel uprooted over 8,000 settlers and evacuated the military – but without a pledge from the Palestinians not to fire rockets at Israeli towns over the very border to which Israel had just withdrawn. We wanted peace: we got war. We mustn’t make the same mistake again.
As the student uttered those words, Galloway shouted out: “You said we! Are you Israeli?”
When Aslan-Levy said he was, Galloway responded, “I’ve been misled, sorry. I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis,” and then flounced out of the room, followed by his wife.
The video of the end of the exchange shows a mixed reaction by students who were in the audience – some laughing, some clapping – it is unclear if they were clapping because Galloway stuck to his “principles” or because Aslan-Levy maintained his composure.
Galloway defended his actions in a Facebook posting: “I refused this evening at Oxford University 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. I never debate with Israelis nor speak to their media. If they want to speak about Palestine – the address is the PLO.” More than 3500 “liked” his post and over 1500 posted comments, many of them vilely anti-Semitic.
Galloway later added on his Twitter feed, “Christ Church never informed us the debate would be with an Israeli. Simple.”
Yes, simple. A member of the British government refused to appear with someone because of their nationality. Aslan-Levy called Galloway’s action racist and unacceptable.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, the Israeli-British student said Galloway should be barred from the House of Commons. “He 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,” Aslan-Levy said.
Galloway has long been a rabid opponent of the Jewish State. He claims Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization and has publicly met with Hamas leaders. He also was an organizer of the “Viva Palestina” “aid convey” to Gaza in 2009.
The head of the Oxford Debating Society, in his understated British way, expressed disappointment that Galloway stormed out of the debate.
Galloway had been a member of the British Labour Party, but was expelled in 2003 when he was found guilty of “bringing the party into disrepute” for, among other things, referring to the Labour Party as “Tony Blair’s Lie Machine.”