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British MP George Galloway’s refusal to engage in a debate with an Israeli and his walkout from a function has evoked mixed reactions – from the visceral to the modest. Galloway walked out of a meeting on Wednesday after he realised he was going to be debating an Israeli and later tweeted: “Israel: simple, No recognition No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment, sanctions.”
The Respect Party MP for Bradford West, a trenchant critic of Israel and its ill-treatment of Palestinian people, was participating in the debate at Christ Church college, speaking for the motion that “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank”, when he learned that Eylon Aslan-Levy, a student opposing it, was Israeli.
Though Jewish groups and their supporters have excoriated the MP for his bluntness, alleged racism and so-called insensitivity, his action will help throw some light on British and Western attitude to the Palestinian issue. First, it shows that there are politicians in Britain who feel as unhappy and enraged at Israeli atrocities against Palestinians as Palestinians themselves and Arabs. Politicians like Galloway are in a better position to attract global attention to the miserable plight of Palestinians because their dissenting voice carries more weight with the Western and Israeli media. Secondly, the incident highlights the need for Palestinians and Arabs to do more work in the West to widen the support for their cause. It’s wrong to believe that the entire West is biased in favour of Israel, though countries like Germany are dead scared of anti-Semitism and wouldn’t do anything that would antagonise the Jewish state. Israel’s belligerence and intransigence and refusal to negotiate with Palestinians has made it a villain in the eyes of some people, and that needs to be capitalised on.
A spokesman for the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign has distanced itself from Galloway’s action, saying the movement rejected “all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”. He added: “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.” Not all supporters of Palestinians and critics of Israel will support Galloway, but his dramatic walkout has attracted media attention and brought the Palestinian issue a notch up in the Western media. With the Middle East peace process in a cul-de-sac and US President Barack Obama still baulking at making efforts to break the logjam, the options for Palestinians have become limited. In times of such hopelessness and pessimism, leaders like Galloway provide a ray of hope — by pushing the issue into the consciousness of those who are deliberately turning their heads away.