Two separate acts of protest have today highlighted the best and the worst way to confront hatred and intolerance in British political discourse. Both were inspired by the self-aggrandising, faux-moralising actions of the repulsive MP for Bradford West, George Galloway. But with their witty response, a brave group of Israeli tourists put the British public’s own reaction to shame.
The Respect MP added to his notoriety on Saturday last week by declaring the city he represents to be an “Israel-free zone” in response to the current conflict in Gaza, reflecting his extreme anti-Israel views.
Here are the highlights from Galloway’s hate-filled remarks:
Building up to his climax of his speech, Galloway states:
“We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone. We don’t want any Israeli goods. We don’t want any Israeli services. We don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college. We don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford even if any of them had thought of doing so. We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel. And you have to do the same.”
As is now sadly typical in modern Britain, rather than simply deploring Galloway’s intemperate and rabid words, the police have become involved. The Huffington Post noted shortly after the event that the Yorkshire Police are investigating the MP’s remarks in case there has been a violation of the myriad intrusive rules and regulations that now stifle free speech within the UK.
These same draconian laws have seen the police knocking on the doors of private citizens – everyone from students to activists to business owners – because certain people have chosen to take offence at their words, so it is unsurprising that the odious George Galloway should receive similar treatment given his notoriety and the widespread publicity given to his latest anti-Israel diatribe.
But rather than letting the heavy-handed machinery of the British state police the public discourse on its own, some members of the public felt the need to proactively beg for the government’s active intercession in the matter. A petition uploaded to change.org by Robert Pegg from Manchester, signed by 7741 individuals at the time of this publication, petitions the government to prosecute George Galloway for his remarks under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.
From the text of the petition:
We, the undersigned, submit that these comments step way beyond the boundaries of free expression and legitimate debate and their only purpose was to cause harassment, alarm or distress to a specific group of people.
We further submit that this offence is a racially aggravated one.
Under S.28.1(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 a crime is racially aggravated if: “At the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victims membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group or; (b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.”
We would further submit that under S.28.4 a ‘racial group’ means a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.
We further submit that the facts consitute [sic] a prima facie case against Mr Galloway and at this stage there is sufficient evidence to charge him and put him before the courts.
While George Galloway may have fallen foul of the letter of the law, rather than signing petitions, British citizens from across the political spectrum should be united together in urging a repeal of laws that criminalise speech which might potentially cause “alarm or distress” to bystanders, and thus limit our free speech to the narrow window of tolerance of our most thin-skinned compatriots.
Even when we find ourselves united in condemnation of the free speech in question (as all right-minded people should be on hearing Galloway’s remarks), we should defend Galloway’s right to speak his mind, secure in the knowledge that his bigotry and hateful agenda will incriminate him in the public eye far more effectively than any punitive sanction handed down by the courts.
By contrast to this embracing of the nanny state, it took a group of individuals from outside the UK – Israeli citizens, no less – to show the angry petition-signers a better way to respond to George Galloway’s unique brand of hatred.
The Huffington Post reports on the praiseworthy actions of a group of Israeli tourists who stepped up to Galloway’s challenge, defying the Bradford MP by visiting the city as tourists. The tourism protest was organised by Shneur Zalman Odze, a dual-Israeli citizen and former UKIP candidate, though the remainder of the group were Israeli nationals.
Odze, the organiser, perfectly sums up the reasons why his is a better form of protest than running to the police and asking them to lock up your political foes:
Odze told HuffPost that he had a warm reception from many people, even pro-Palestinians. “Actually that was more touching than people who came up to use who were obviously pro-Israel. People came over and said that, they disagree with me on Gaza, they hate the photos coming out of the war, but they didn’t think Israelis should be banned from Bradford, that they were ashamed of what he had said.
“I was surprised how many had actually heard of his speech and knew what he said and were embarrassed. I don’t think he has as much supports as he thinks. Later in the day, some pro-Palestinian demonstrators came from another demo happening at the same time. We spoke about the conflict, and even though one side is never going to convince the other, it was a respectful discussion and we shared our biscuits.”
Perhaps it was Odze’s libertarian UKIP roots that led him to seek to confront Galloway in a battle of ideas and values rather than seek to silence the Respect MP using the power of the state. Or perhaps it was just a sign of his good humour, and that of the Israeli tourists who made the slightly unusual detour to Bradford on their travels.
But either way, the brave and cheerful stance taken by these young tourists stands in very stark contrast to the angry, snarling victimhood embraced by the likes of George Galloway and (to a much lesser extent) those who want to bring the weight of draconian anti-free speech laws crashing down on his views.
George Galloway was elected to Parliament to represent the constituency of Bradford West in March 2012, with 30% of the vote and a majority of 10,140. The citizens of Bradford already have the unfortunate fact that they sent such a man as Galloway to represent them in Westminster on their collective conscience. But they also have the power to see sense and remove this bitter, divisive little person from office when they return to the polling stations in 2015.
Galloway’s latest remarks, calling for collective punishment of Israelis based on the actions of their government, form just part of a litany of reasons why he deserves to lose re-election. But it is there, through the democratic process, that the terrorism’s premier apologist in Parliament should face judgement.
Not in the courts, not in a Yorkshire police station, and certainly not via a change.org petition.
Photograph: From the Twitter account of @ShneurOdzeUKIP – “@georgegalloway in Bradford today with my Israeli friends, we got a tremendous reception – how’s your ban going?”