LONDON — A phalanx of lawyers is coming forward on Twitter to offer free legal help after the controversial anti-Israel MP George Galloway threatened to sue upwards of a dozen people over allegations of anti-Semitism. In a letter sent by his lawyers, Galloway has demanded £6,000 ($9280) per person upfront for legal expenses, a threat which one lawyer described as “outrageous.”
Galloway’s lawyers, Chambers and Co, in Bradford, where he is MP for Bradford West, have written to people who used the social media site in the wake of his appearance on BBC’s Question Time last month. The program, which was filmed in Finchley in the heart of north-west London’s Jewish community, erupted when a member of the audience accused Galloway of bearing some responsibility for the rise in anti-Semitism in the UK. Galloway strenuously denied the accusation.
But the fallout from Question Time continued on Twitter with many people attacking Galloway. One was the Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman, who deleted her Tweet on February 10 when Galloway threatened to sue her. However, he is apparently proceeding with his lawsuit and she is now being advised by her newspaper’s lawyers.
Matters degenerated for Galloway in the last week when he launched his #AskGalloway hastag, a question and answer forum on Twitter. The social media website exploded with scores of mocking and derisory responses.
One Tweet, from IsraellyCool blogger Aussie Dave, asked: ‘if you were stuck on a desert island and an Israeli ship came by… how would you choose to kill yourself?’
Sample Tweets included, “What’s the worst thing someone could say to be blocked from your Twitter, WITHOUT being sued for libel? Asking for a friend.” Or “What’s it’s like being BFF’s with genocidal maniacs?” #syria, which was posted over a picture of Galloway alongside Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.
One Tweet, from IsraellyCool blogger Aussie Dave, asked: “if you were stuck on a desert island and an Israeli ship came by… how would you choose to kill yourself?”
A furious Galloway responded: “Apologies, normal people, for the cornucopia of madness, from alcoholics to Zionists, blocking the TL [time line]. A tidal wave of filth, racism, insanity.” He also warned in a Tweet: “Supporters of Israel seek to intimidate their opponents, silence or discredit them. False allegations of anti-Semitism are a part of that.”
This week horrified Tweeters – including people with a very small number of followers who had merely re-tweeted some of the attacks on Galloway – received a letter from his lawyers in which they were told that they were “required” to pay £6,000 into a named bank account by March 10 and warned that legal proceedings would ensue against them.
The MP’s spokesperson, Ron McKay, told the Independent that it was “normal practice” for costs to be demanded before the start of a libel case. “If they don’t pay the money it will go to court,” he said. “George has been grossly libelled as an antisemite and he will pursue anyone who does that, however big or small.”
Galloway, who declared Bradford “an Israel-free zone” last summer during the violence in Gaza, has previously refused to debate with Israelis and has insisted he will not engage with Israeli media.
Now a woman identifying herself only by the Twitter handle @suedbyGalloway has begun an urgent online campaign on behalf of the recipients of Galloway’s legal letter.
@suedbyGalloway told the Times of Israel that a family friend received the lawyers’ letter, “which caused a huge amount of distress and worry.”
‘We do intend to help set up a legal fund or a crowd fund for those who need legal help’
“We believe that the number [of those threatened with legal action] exceeds 12 – we have seen four ourselves since setting up this account yesterday,” she said, adding that there had been a massive response to the campaign. Those in receipt of the letter are advised, however, not to proceed without legal advice.
“We do intend to help set up a legal fund or a crowd fund for those who need legal help. We will be meeting the relevant people over the next few days to see what we can do in this regard,” said @suedbyGalloway.
At least one of the recipients is understood to be a charity worker with no assets and only 75 Twitter followers. He told The Times that he had been unable to sleep since receiving the letter.
One attorney who has offered help and representation, is one of Britain’s best-known libel lawyers, Mark Lewis.
‘Access to justice requires that all sides to a dispute are represented’
“Access to justice requires that all sides to a dispute are represented. People who received a threatening letter, demanding £6,000 for legal costs for writing that letter, will most likely be petrified by the ordeal that presents itself,” Lewis told The Times of Israel.
“Libel must be dealt with properly, with equality of arms, not by people feeling intimidated into silence. If someone has a defense, they should pursue it, rather than feeling that legal costs chills them into silence and apology,” said Lewis.
Lewis said it must have “terrified” those who received the letter and said that such a demand, of £6,000 for legal expenses for the writing of one letter, should be reported to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.
At least three more lawyers came forward on Twitter on Sunday to offer their services and it is believed that a leading London barrister has also offered help.
George Galloway himself spent Saturday demonstrating against the German right-wing group, Pegida, which chose to hold its first UK demonstration “against the Islamization of Europe” in the northern city of Newcastle.
About 400 Pegida supporters were hugely outnumbered by around 2,000 anti-racist demonstrators. A number of members of the far-right English Defence League were said to have joined the Pegida crowd and – as is now common at English Defence League events – an Israeli flag was on display among the Islamophobic supporters.