Monday, 25 February 2013

Supporting Galloway, primarily

A few words on George Galloway walking out of an Oxford debate on Palestine-Israel.

Three, in particular: I support him.

Why? Because, first and foremost, he stands up for oppressed Palestinians. First and foremost, he supports the victims. First and foremost, he takes sides.  And, first and foremost, he should be supported for doing so.

Whether he refuses to debate an Israeli citizen is his call, a subjective judgement. What's clear, contrary to all the shrill and predictable media headlines, is that his refusal was not in any sense a racist act. It was a political act of solidarity.

Galloway's action is clearly not concerned with race, only with that person's nationality and what he says as an Israeli citizen about Israel.

Galloway makes it clear, in this regard, that he's not opposed to debating all Israelis, only those who back their state.

Why should a person of political conscience feel compelled to engage someone holding views which seek to legitimate the actions of their state - in Israel's case, an apartheid state built on ethnic cleansing and mass murder?

People on the left routinely refuse to share a platform with the far right, a rejection not of the person per se, but of that person's identity, what that person is defending.

Would it be racist of, say, an Iraqi person to refuse a debate with Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell or any other British person defending their state's mass crimes in Iraq?

Would it be racist of an Aboriginal Australian to refuse engagement of any other Australian defending that country's treatment of its indigenous people?

We can, of course, debate the tactics, whether it was 'bad politics' and whether Galloway's action concurs with BDS 'guidelines'. But, as this key part of the BDS statement explains:
"BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with."
In effect, contrary to mass media misrepresentation, both BDS and Galloway hold legitimate, compatible positions here.

Imagine the same media which has vilified Galloway with all the standard labels - 'maverick', 'controversial', 'left-firebrand', 'storming-out' of the debate etc - taking the same amount of column space or airtime to reflect that essential point or, of course, to consider the actual criticisms of Israel he's raising.

Again, that doesn't mean people shouldn't partake in such exchange. Many Palestinians and their supporters do engage Israelis who support their state, believing that it helps expose their arguments.

But many also justly believe that rejecting the basic status of that state and its occupation - its 'normalisation' - better serves the Palestinian cause.  That refusal isn't based on racial grounds, but on moral/political ones in rejection not of the individual but of the state that individual is defending.

Which returns us to first principles: what matters, primarily, is giving conscientious support to those who conscientiously support oppressed others.

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