British MP George Galloway quit a debate on Israel at Oxford University Wednesday after discovering that his opponent was an Israeli citizen. The Respect party legislator, who is renowned for being staunchly pro-Palestinian, stormed out of the building saying: “I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.”
Galloway was first to speak in the debate, opining in favor of the statement “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank” for 10 minutes. But midway into his opponent’s address, in which the third-year student referred repeatedly to Israel as “we” and “us,” Galloway inquired whether the speaker, Eylon Aslan-Levy, was Israeli. Upon learning that he was, the MP stormed out of the building with his wife, claiming that he was misled.
“I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel,” Galloway said in a statement late on Wednesday evening. “The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalization. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.”
Aslan-Levy, 21, who has joint British-Israeli citizenship, described Galloway’s remarks as “appalling.”
“It’s deeply offensive to refuse to speak to someone because of their nationality. It’s pure racism,” he said in an interview to the Times. “The fact that a sitting member of Parliament could do this is all the more astonishing.”
Speaking to a university newspaper, debate organizer Mahmood Naji condemned Galloway’s walkout and denied misleading him.
“At no point during my email exchange with Mr Galloway’s secretary was Eylon’s nationality ever brought up or mentioned,” he said, “nor do I expect to have to tell the speaker what his opponent’s nationality is.”
Galloway has long been a bitter critic of Israel. He accepted an honorary Palestinian passport from Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh three years ago after organizing aid trips to Gaza. He has reportedly described Jerusalem and Baghdad as being “raped” by “foreigners,” claimed Zionists control the British media, and blamed Israel for the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
In 2010, Galloway was denied entry to Canada on national security grounds over his links to Hamas, though he was later permitted to visit.
Last March he won the Bradford West seat in northern England — a district that includes a large Muslim community — with a majority of more than 10,000 votes.