Jewish leaders see 'dark day'; say he brings 'politics of hate'

‘This is for Gaza’: George Galloway wins UK seat after campaigning against Israel

In victory speech, veteran left-winger says Keir Starmer ‘will pay a high price’ for backing Jewish state against Hamas, claims the Labour party leader is in the ‘pocket of Israel’

George Galloway, center, holds a rally at his Rochdale headquarters after being declared winner of the Rochdale by-election, which was triggered after the death of Labour Party's member of parliament Tony Lloyd, in Rochdale, England, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)
George Galloway, center, holds a rally at his Rochdale headquarters after being declared winner of the Rochdale by-election, which was triggered after the death of Labour Party's member of parliament Tony Lloyd, in Rochdale, England, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

LONDON — Veteran left-wing political maverick George Galloway, known for his heated anti-Israel rhetoric, won a vote to become the new lawmaker for the English town of Rochdale on Friday, vowing to be a thorn in the side for the opposition Labour Party before a national election it is tipped to win.

After running a pro-Palestinian campaign, Galloway won over many of Rochdale’s Muslim community by attacking both Labour and Britain’s governing Conservatives for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas, making a foreign conflict the major issue — unusual in a by-election when local concerns usually dominate.

Elected to parliament for the seventh time, Galloway will be an irritant to Labour, a party he once belonged to before being ejected for criticising then-prime minister Tony Blair over the Iraq War. He even went so far as saying the assassination of Blair would be “morally justified” for Britain’s involvement.

His victory underlines the divisions in Britain over the Israel-Hamas war, which is in its fifth month and has brought protesters onto British streets in support of both sides, though pro-Palestinian demonstrations against Israel have drawn far larger crowds.

The fighting in Gaza was triggered by the Hamas-led October 7 onslaught, in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostages. Israel declared war on Hamas in response, vowing to topple the Gaza-ruling terror group and retrieve the hostages.

Since October 7, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the enclave, an unverified figure that doesn’t differentiate between fighters and civilians, and is also believed to include Gazans killed by the terror group’s errant rocket fire. Israel says it has killed over 13,000 gunmen from Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza since October 7.

British lawmakers have faced threats to do more to bring an end to the fighting, leading the government to boost funding for their security. The government has also allocated increased funds to protect Jewish communities, after a recent report found thousands of antisemitic incidents after October 7, making 2023 the worst year for UK antisemitism since the records began in 1984.

With the national election later this year, Galloway’s return to parliament will be short-lived but explosive. He has accused Labour leader Keir Starmer of being in the “pocket of Israel.”

Galloway won 12,335 votes compared with 6,638 for second-placed David Tully, an independent candidate. The former Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, came fourth after the opposition party pulled its support from him when he claimed Israel allowed the Hamas-led October 7 massacres.

The leader of right-wing Reform UK, Richard Tice, said the campaign had been marred by intimidation and abuse of his party’s candidate and campaigners, describing the vote as a “shameful contest … more characteristic of a failed state.” His party’s candidate came sixth.

“[Labour leader] Keir Starmer: This is for Gaza,” Galloway said in his victory speech. “You will pay a high price for the role that you played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine.”

“Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside and they both got well and truly spanked tonight here in Rochdale.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the largest Jewish community organization in the UK, said on Friday that Galloway’s victory marks “a dark day” for the UK’s Jewish community.

“George Galloway is a demagogue and conspiracy theorist who has brought the politics of division and hate to every place he has ever stood for Parliament,” it said in a statement.

George Galloway gives a victory speech after winning the by-election for the open parliamentary seat in Rochdale, England, March 1, 2024. (X screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Headache for Labour

Turnout was low at 39.7%.

It will be the first time Galloway’s left-wing Workers Party of Britain has been represented in parliament.

For some in Rochdale, a former cotton mill town near Manchester, the so-called by-election, triggered by the death of Labour lawmaker Tony Lloyd last month, had failed to offer them a clear choice of someone determined to help their town, ranked in the top 5 per cent of most deprived English local authorities in 2019.

Galloway also campaigned to reinstate maternity services in Rochdale but it was his message on Gaza that rang loudest.

He has vowed to speak out on Gaza in parliament, challenging Labour, which initially gave full backing to Israel following the October 7 attack. The party has since shifted its position to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators wave Palestinian flags and hold placards as they protest in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024, during an Opposition Day motion in the House of Commons calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. (Henry Nicholls / AFP)

It is a headache Starmer could do without. He has struggled to maintain party unity over its position on Gaza. He avoided having to put the divisions on show last week when his party was allowed to put forward its stance on a ceasefire, following a shambolic debate in parliament.

Galloway, a colorful figure who became well known after he impersonated a cat on a reality television show in 2006, will try to exploit Labour’s divisions.

“I want to tell Mr Starmer above all, that the plates have shifted tonight,” he said. “This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates.”

The by-election also again drew focus to the issue of antisemitism in Labour, which Starmer has made tackling a key mission since he became its leader nearly four years ago.

The party, now on course to win a general election due later this year, saw a spate of incidents under former far-left chief Jeremy Corbyn.

A landmark October 2020 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ruled that Labour under Corbyn had broken the law in its “inexcusable” handling of complaints.

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