George Galloway, a leftist British politician who recently launched his own party, never has been much of a supporter of Israel, but in the last two months his political star has risen after a series of confrontations with Jewish politicians.
First, in early May, Galloway won a seat in parliament by unseating Oona King, a black-Jewish member of the Labour Party who had supported the Iraq war. A few weeks later, he scored a political coup when he turned an appearance in front of a U.S. Senate committee into a chance to excoriate American leaders and the committee chairman, Jewish Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota, over American policy in Iraq.
In his latest salvo, Galloway shifted his focus from Iraq to Israel when he challenged another Jewish member of Britain’s parliament, Louise Ellman. Ellman is one of 21 Jews in the 646-person House of Commons, and vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel. At an appearance in Ellman’s hometown of Liverpool last week, Galloway called Ellman “Israel’s MP on Merseyside,” referring to the city’s river, and said his Respect Party would challenge her in the next elections, which will probably be in four years.
Ellman, for one, does not appear to be concerned.
“He’s just beaten a Jewish Labour MP in London,” Ellman told the Forward. “He thinks he can do the same thing in Liverpool. He will find he is making a big mistake. I will continue speaking out for the things I believe in.”
A Scottish ex-boxer, Galloway is the only one of 26 Respect Party candidates to win a seat in the recent elections. He took his seat by playing up King’s support for the Iraq War in her heavily Muslim London district. Ellman, on the other hand, comes from a primarily white working-class district of Liverpool, where the Respect Party will probably pose less of a challenge, according to a spokesman for the Britain’s Community Security Trust, a Jewish communal organization.
A spokesman for Galloway, Ron McKay, said, “It’s not about religion — it’s about where she stands vis a vis Zionism, and her slavish support of Zionist Israel politics and policies.”
Galloway’s recent efforts appear to be one of the first concerted efforts to use Israel as a political issue to mobilize disaffected Muslim voters. There are now 1.8 million Muslims in Britain, and the Respect Party has made an evident effort to reach out to them.
During a May 21 rally organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Galloway called for a boycott of Israeli goods and stores that stock Israeli goods.
“The Palestinian people are like the 300 Spartans holding the pass of Thermopylae, until the others can arrive and come to their side,” Galloway said at the rally in London, according to the Jerusalem Post. “We will join them, by boycotting Israel.”
In front of the Senate, Galloway roundly denied Coleman’s allegations that he had profited from any oil deals with Saddam Hussein’s regime, and launched into an attack on Coleman and the entire American political leadership.
“Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens,” Galloway said. “You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq’s wealth.’
In the course of his invective, Galloway questioned the extent of the contributions made to Coleman by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee. Coleman responded only with a few detailed questions about the documents in question.
In England, Galloway has had a stormy relationship with the political leadership. He was kicked out of the Labour Party in 2003 after protesting the Iraq war. He has also had numerous fights with the British media. But after his senate appearance he came home as a conquering hero of sorts. The Independent newspaper, in London, had a headline stating that “Galloway Hits the Target as He Lambastes Senate.”
Galloway won his parliamentary race against King by providing a similarly strident criticism of her support for the war in Iraq. Israel was a non-issue in the campaign, as King had also criticized Israeli policy. But King said she was nonetheless targeted for her heritage.
“I have been told by several people that members of Respect have told them not to vote for me because I am Jewish,” King told the Evening Standard.
Galloway’s spokesman said because Respect is “poor and badly funded,” the party is choosing challengers carefully based on their stance on foreign policy. But it is as yet unclear how seriously Galloway is taking his new leadership role.
Thus far, he has not attended a single parliamentary vote since being elected, according to the British Public Whip. He recently signed on with a “celebrity productions” promoter to travel around the country presenting “The ‘Mother of All One Man Shows’ — An Audience with George Galloway MP.”