George Galloway’s decision to walk out of a debate at Oxford University as soon as he realised that the opposing speaker was an Israeli was both principled and correct. It has been deemed controversial only because of the wilful and ongoing denial, prevalent within the British political, media, and cultural establishments, of the fact that Israel is an apartheid state.
The real controversy, and the only j’accuse vis-à-vis Israel that should be levelled, involves those whose cowardice prevents them from not only acknowledging this truth, but worse from acting to end what is by any reckoning the most sustained and systematic injustice inflicted on a people by a state in modern history.
George Galloway has spent his entire political life speaking and standing up for the rights of the Palestinians – who have and continue to be blamed by Israel and its apologists in the West for their own suffering. In the over three decades of Galloway’s unfailing support for the Palestinians, he has endured more calumniation, smears, attacks, and attempts at demonisation than any single political figure not only in Britain but the entire West. His supposed crime in daring to swim against an establishment tide of supine support and acquiescence of Israel’s crimes is in truth a badge of honour. Only in a corrupt and upside down world would he be reproached for taking such a stance. Sadly, it is precisely the kind of world in which we currently live.
The boycott of Israel – economic, cultural, academic, and sporting – stands on the shoulders of the international boycott campaign which played a key role in ending South African apartheid in 1990. It is a campaign called for and initiated by Palestinian civil society. Significantly, the great figures of the struggle against South African apartheid are today supporting the Palestinians. In 2010 Archbishop Desmond Tutu, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in fighting apartheid in South Africa, wrote:
“I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime.”
As Galloway wrote on his Facebook page after the incident:
“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.”
Israelis are able to enjoy the right to travel, study and speak freely around the world, while Palestinians are denied the same rights as a direct result of Israel’s illegal occupation, siege, and apartheid system. It is entirely correct, therefore, that those interested in justice should refuse to share platforms or debate with Israeli supporters of this apartheid state.
The cause of the Palestinian people – battered and bruised but as yet undefeated – is the cause of humanity in our time. George Galloway’s stance reflects this truth. Rather than condemned it is one that should be applauded.