How To Confront Hatred – Israeli Tourists Show The Way

Bradford Israel Protest George Galloway 2

 

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?”

 

Advertisements

Romney Gets Owned By The Economist

Ouch.

The Economist seems to have taken an even dimmer view of Mitt Romney’s recent foreign excursion than I did. In a scorching piece subtitled “Like Bush, but without the cosmopolitan flair”, the newspaper rips Romney for what they call his “horn-honking, floppy-shoed clown show” of a foreign trip.

The newspaper rightly lays into Romney for stating before he left on his ill-fated trip that he would not comment on foreign policy matters while on foreign soil (in accordance with usual protocol), but then reneging on his promise and doing precisely that while in Israel. They note:

… he moved on to Israel, where his campaign promptly involved itself in a diplomatic scandal (this time with actual consequences) over whether it had said that Mr Romney would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Mr Romney went on to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a position no American administration has ever taken because discussions over the final status of the city are the most explosive subject in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Then this morning, at a fund-raising breakfast largely populated by ultra-rich Jewish Americans, Mr Romney managed to suggest that Palestinians are poor because their culture is inferior to that of Jews.

Sigh. Presidential candidates are just not supposed to do that. Aside from the fact that it is highly irresponsible to start announcing an alternate US foreign policy abroad before the votes have been counted and you have been sworn in to office, explicitly backing the policies of one foreign political party (Likud), or a coalition, unnecessarily meddles in Israel’s domestic politics. It is a blunder committed by someone with no sense of diplomacy and no thought to the consequences of his actions, save for the effect it would have on shoring up his base at home.

The Economist takes particular exception to Romney’s speech at a fundraiser:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel.

Don’t say things like that when The Economist is listening. They have facts and figures to hand, and both the time and brainpower to use these facts and figures to make you look like an ass hat:

To make matters worse, Mr Romney got his numbers wrong. Per capita income in Israel is over $31,000; in the Palestinian territories it is closer to $1,500. Those aren’t the kinds of numbers that divide industrious Protestants from happy-go-lucky Catholics. They’re the kind of numbers that divide South Korea from Ghana. You don’t get those kinds of divisions because of cultural differences.

Comparing the income of the average Israeli to that of the average Palestinian, as though their prospects at birth had been equivalent and their fortunes today are largely the result of their own efforts and their “culture”, is gratuitously insulting and wreaks damage to American diplomacy.

It really does wreak damage to American diplomacy. Yes, to some extent Obama did the same thing with his own foreign tour in 2008 – his speech in Berlin where he talked of the need to engage better with the world and partner with other nations, while quite true to my mind, was also perhaps an inappropriate repudiation of the existing American policy under then-president Bush – but this is of a different order altogether. At some point, a future hypothetical President Romney would have to engage with the Middle East peace process, and enraging one half of the debate with needless and groundless attacks on their “culture” are only going to make that already vexing job even more complicated.

Furthermore, the idea that some ethereal thing such as “culture” accounts primarily for the disparity in per capita wealth between the two populations is so absurd as to be ridiculous. A man as supposedly intelligent as Mitt Romney surely understands that, regardless of  your views on where responsibility for the troubles lies, Palestinians and Israelis are not born with equal prospects at birth, diverging only because of one culture’s superiority over the other.

As The Economist wryly notes at the end:

Perhaps at a fund-raising breakfast in New York, Mr Romney might compliment the city’s wealthy Jews and Hindus on their culture of educational excellence, which has made them so much richer and more accomplished, on average, than America’s evangelical Christians and Mormons.

I think we all know that Romney won’t be saying anything of the kind. Calling Palestinian culture inferior carries no penalties back home. Criticising evangelical Christians, on the other hand…