November 26, 2010
Galloway tours nation
Former British member of Parliament George Galloway spoke to a sold-out crowd of about 500 mostly Muslim students and staff at York University in Toronto on Nov. 16, ahead of his Nov. 22 stop in Vancouver. The speech was sponsored by the York Federation of Students (YFS) as part of its Xpressions Against Oppression series, and was the first stop on Galloway’s cross-Canada speaking tour, called Free Palestine, Free Afghanistan, Free Speech. Galloway, who had been barred from entering Canada in March 2010 on the grounds of national security, successfully appealed the decision and was allowed into the country in early October.
Galloway is known internationally, among other things, for his critical views on the war in Iraq and Canada’s policies regarding the war in Afghanistan, referring to himself as an antiwar, anti-imperialist humanitarian. In his speech at York, he briefly discussed his views on Iran, arguing that anyone who believes that a war in Iran would guarantee security in the West is “as stupid as George W. Bush.”
Galloway also addressed issues with which he saw fault in present-day Canada. According to him, the reason that Canada lost its recent bid for a seat on the UN Security Council is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unwavering support for Israel. Galloway told the audience that Harper said that losing the seat “was the price Canada paid” for supporting Israel. However, not all Canadians were willing to pay this price, Galloway declared to thunderous applause.
When it came to the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Galloway urged Canada to talk with Hamas, asserting that “everyone in the world is already talking to Hamas,” citing Britain as an example of a country that, he said, “is regularly talking to Hamas,” along with the European Union. Galloway said that communicating with Hamas is essential, because “you have to talk with, and deal with, the people with whom you are in conflict.” In order to solve the conflict, he continued, the negotiating must be done with the people who the Palestinians have elected, and not with Palestinian leaders who came to power through international pressure.
Critics of Galloway attest that he is a Hamas supporter, due partly to the fact that he made a personal donation of £25,000 to Hamas in 2009. “I donated the money to the minster of health in Gaza, to pay the salaries of the doctors and nurses in the hospitals who’d been working for months without pay,” Galloway explained. Further, he argued that Hamas is not a terrorist organization but, rather, the first free and democratically elected government in the Arab world, though he told the audience that he does not support them.
“I am not now, nor have I ever been, a supporter of Hamas.... If I had a vote in the Palestinian elections, I would have voted for someone else and, if I ever get a vote, I will vote for someone else,” Galloway said.
There was not a lot of time at the end of his speech for a question-and-answer session with Galloway, so there was little opportunity to garner discussion and debate. However, one student attendee noted that many critics of Israel state policy often get labeled as “antisemitic.” The student asked Galloway what, in his opinion, is the difference is between being antisemetic and anti-Zionist. Galloway said that it is important to make sure that antisemitism is not be tolerated, because he has nothing against Jews. “My quarrel is against Zionism,” Galloway stated.
Outside the lecture hall, a gathering of about 75 students and parents protested Galloway’s visit and YFS’s sponsoring of the event. The protest was not organized by any particular organization at York, and attendees were both Jewish and non-Jewish members of the York community. Jewish community members were opposed to YFS funding the speech, in which only one opinion was presented, a representative said.
“George Galloway has every right to speak and voice his opinions … but should not be provided a platform with our student dollars,” said Dara Koplowitz, vice-president internal of Hasbara at York.
Non-Jewish demonstrators said they were protesting Galloway’s denial of such topics as the genocide in Darfur. Shouts of “Shame, shame YFS!” and “Not on my campus, not on my dime!” could be heard throughout the entrance area into the lecture hall and, throughout Galloway’s speech, those inside the lecture hall could hear the distant sounds of the protesters.
Dale Gold is a student in the concurrent education program at York University, working on a B.Ed. and a BA in Jewish studies and history.