In likely the most fractious “Question Time” in recent years, George Galloway clashed with fellow panelist Jonathan Freedland, and a large, vocal bank of the audience, in Thursday’s show following a question on the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the UK.
On Thursday morning, the Community Security Trust (CST) – a charity that monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain – published figures highlighting a doubling of anti-Semitic incidents across the country in 2014, an increase for which last year’s conflict in Gaza was blamed.
The final questioner of Thursday’s show asked about the rise, while implying the Respect MP, who last year declared Bradford and “Israel-free zone”, had contributed to the anti-Semitic fervor.
Explaining the new figures, Guardian columnist Freedland, who identified himself as a member of the Jewish community, said there was an “upsurge when violence resumed in Gaza” because the rhetoric around Israel become so “inflamed” that people struggle to distinct between Israel and Jews. He then attacked Galloway for his own rhetoric around Israel, alleging the Respect MP had ddrawn links between the Middle Eastern state and the revolution in Ukraine.
“People like George Galloway need to exercise great responsibility in this area because it’s incendiary… and can lead to hate” said Freedland.
In the run up to Question Time, which was held in Finchley, North London – an area with a large Jewish population – the BBC had been decried for inviting Galloway, a staunch critic of Israel, in what was described as a “provocative move”.
During the segment, several members of the audience were unable to contain themselves, shouting repeatedly at Galloway despite David Dimbleby’s remonstrations.
“You’re not welcome,” shouted one audience member. Galloway, unperturbed, shot back, “You will not stop me speaking however much you shout.”
He continued: “I’m very sorry that Jonathan Freedland in what he has just said has given credence to the absolutely false allegation implicit in the question [the Galloway had added to rise in anti-Semitism]”.
“I know about political violence; I was assaulted three times in four months in London.”
An audience member shouted back, “I wonder why?”
“See,” said George addressing the mob, “you are in favour of some political violence but against other political violence. You’re in favour of freedom of speech for some people, but not for others.”
“You support Hezbollah,” another audience member replied.
Dimbleby tried to intervene…
“Am I on trial here? I’m being bayed at by the audience, I’ve been directly accused by another panelist…”
Galloway went on to say the conflation of Jewishness and Israel was “dangerous” and a “false synonym”.
“Zionism and Israel are different things from Judaism and Jewishness. And anyone that conflates these things, whether they’re an anti-Semite or a so-called leader of the Jewish community, is making a grave mistake,” he said.
Galloway then chastised Freedland for saying the current rise in anti-Semitism in the UK was the results of a “resumption of violence last year in Gaza.
“What he meant to say was the mass murder of 2156 Palestinians locked up in a prison camp called Gaza, five hundred of them children.
In a bizarre vignette, Galloway said that had he been alive in the 1930s he would have been first at the recruiting office to fight fascism, which was a “Christian, European phenomenon”.
When journalist Cristina Odone leaned over to interject, Galloway snapped, “Take your hands off me”.
The former Labour MP concluded that the “shadow cast by the fear of ant-Semitism in Britain could be said many fold about Islamophobioa and the fear of Muslims in Britain”.
Earlier Galloway has censured Dimbleby and the BBC for the lack of balance in the audience. “You be the lions, I’ll be Daniel,” he said to the crowd. That just about summed it up.