When it was first announced that George Galloway would be on the panel when Question Time was broadcast from Finchley, Gene suggested that he should be forced to share a platform with Eylon Aslan-Levy (the Israeli he’d refused to debate at Oxford). In the event, Jonathan Freedland was selected to offer some (liberal) Zionist balance.
Unfortunately it was all too easy to identify a topical question which would reflect the widespread local resentment at Galloway’s presence. Antisemitic incidents are at an all time high according to the CST’s latest report. Gabriel Rosen asked the panel (39:00) why there was a rise in antisemitism, and also whether ‘a certain member of the panel’ bore some responsibility for this.
Freedland didn’t shy away from the second part of the question, but instead agreed that, yes, Galloway (and those like him) did bear some responsibility because their anti-Israel rhetoric was so inflammatory, and in some cases based on wild conspiracy theories.
‘You can be the lions, I’ll be Daniel’, taunted Galloway (43:08), when heckled by some audience members. He then accused the audience collectively (44:25) of supporting ‘some political violence’ (a reference to attacks against him). (Throughout this segment of the programme, Galloway seemed more interested in discussing himself than answering the question.)
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person watching who would have liked to hear the Atzmon issue raised with Galloway. (Galloway recently hosted Atzmon on his Russia Today show.) At 45:30 he cautioned piously against confusing Jewishness and Judaism with Zionism and Israel. This formula is problematic because it implies that it is wrong to be a Zionist, and hints that perhaps Zionists do not deserve the same protection from antisemitism as Jews who denounce Israel. But it does represent some kind of advance on Atzmon’s position, which is to see even Jewishness, any kind of expression of communal Jewish identity, not just Zionism, as deeply suspect.
There was a worrying and thinly veiled menace in some of Galloway’s remarks. He warned the audience (52:20) that he and those who support him would resent this section of the programme. He went on to claim that Islamophobia was a bigger problem than antisemitism (53:00) – that’s both debatable (not that it’s a competition), and beside the point. He implied that those present cared more about antisemitism than anti-Muslim bigotry. This accusation was gratuitous, groundless and divisive. In fact Jonathan Freedland, in particular, has often spoken out against attacks on Muslims. This was particularly worrying.
‘I beg you, don’t conflate Zionism, Israel and Jews in London. It’s a very dangerous thing to do.’ … ‘It’s a very dangerous game that you are playing here – very, very dangerous’
Again, there’s an implication that Zionist Jews, and Jews who support Israel (and of course you can be a Zionist and supporter of Israel while having strong reservations about the Likud government) are in some way responsible for antisemitism – although one might ask what Zionism has to do with a Kosher supermarket.
Tristram Hunt got an enthusiastic round of applause from the Finchley audience when he pointed out that this is not an arms race between Islamophobia and antisemitism. Galloway, by contrast, seemed intent on stirring up antagonism between Jews and Muslims.