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Anti-Semitism and George Galloway’s Party

A controversy in the Respect Party shows a larger trend

Liam Hoare
October 26, 2012
George Galloway(PA)
George Galloway(PA)

As The Scroll picked up on earlier today, London’s Jewish Chronicle has reported the comments of the British Respect Party’s woman’s officer, Naz Kahn, posted on Facebook September 30:

It’s such a shame that the history teachers in our school never taught us this but they are the first to start brainwashing us and our children into thinking the bad guy was Hitler. What have the Jews done good in this world??

The defense Kahn seemed to offer in a later post was she is “not a Nazi, I’m an ordinary British Muslim that had an opinion and put it across.” Respect’s hierarchy has condemned her statements of course, but unfortunately for them this is not the first time that the party – a coalition of dogged old socialists, Muslim interest groups, and anti-war types all united by anti-Zionism – has been accused of anti-Semitism. In 2010, Abul ‘Abz’ Hussain, a member of Respect’s National Council was found to have made jokes, again on Facebook, about Jews hoarding money. During a 2005 campaign in Bethnal Green and Bow in London, in which Labour MP Oona King was challenged by Respect’s George Galloway, King asserted that Respect activists had told voters not to elect her since she was Jewish, and argued that anti-Semitism was “used really effectively” during that campaign.

Speaking of Galloway, Respect’s voice in national debates would be inaudible were it not for the notoriety of their sole Member of Parliament, who may be best known in the United States for his ham-fisted and bombastic performance at a Senate hearing into the Oil-for-Food debacle. Galloway rejects anti-Semitism publically but he is certainly no friend of Israel. Rather, he is a known defender of Hezbollah, purposing in a 2006 op-ed that it “has not and has never been a terrorist organisation”. Galloway is also inclined towards one of Hezbollah’s principal supporters, Syria, labelling the nation “the last castle of Arab dignity” in an email begging for aid and assistance pertaining to a Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza. He was also rather fond of Saddam Hussein in the past, saluting him in a face-to-face meeting for his “courage, strength, and indefatigability.”

Galloway’s success as a Respect politician has been constructed upon not only his celebrity but his aforementioned deft use of sectarianism and division. In both 2005 (against King) and 2012, Galloway won seats in the House of Commons by running in constituencies with a high concentration of Muslim voters, using his anti-war stance and image as a defender of Arab and Muslim interests to carve up local communities and drag support away from Labour candidates. In March of this year running in the northern city of Bradford, campaign material written in the first person appeared which read as follows:

God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for. I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if the other candidate [Imran Hussain, Labour] in this election can say that truthfully. I, George Galloway, have fought for the Muslims at home and abroad, all my life, and paid a price for it. I, George Galloway, hold Pakistan’s highest civil awards.

Respect thus practices a variety of shameless ethno-religious politicking that aside from being dreadfully unseemly, odiously reductionist, and awfully un-British is also terribly dangerous, threatening to inject one’s race or religion into a process with should be about policy and ideology. It also rather undermines their claim to be the party of equality and social justice, an assertion also damaged by the fervent and rabid nature of their pro-Palestinian activism. Israel, Respect asserts, is a “settler colonial state” founded on “toxic mix of racism and exceptionalism” that has “led to the existence of a state that since its formation has viewed its repeated violations of international law and its crimes against humanity entirely justified.” Peace, equality, and social justice for all, then, except it would seem for the Jews.

Liam Hoare is a freelance writer whose work on politics and literature has featured in publications including The AtlanticThe Daily Beast, and The Forward. He is a graduate of University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Liam Hoare is a freelance writer based in Vienna, where he is the Europe Editor for Moment and a frequent contributor to Tablet.