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George Galloway and the Politics of Nationality

01/03/2013 14:51 GMT | Updated 30/04/2013 10:12 BST

There is a recording of George Galloway speaking in the House of Commons in 2007. Galloway is stood in the rows toward the back - a lonely figure. The building is relatively empty - only a smattering of politicians, dotted here and there around the benches. Some of these up and leave while Galloway is in mid-flow. Others snigger and chuckle under their breath, exchanging surreptitious glances like sly, precocious school children.

But despite the atmosphere of insouciance and resentment, Galloway's words are spellbinding. He speaks in a measured, solemn voice, with just an edge of pathos, as he outlines the hypocrisies of the government: its support of the anti-democratic regime in Saudi Arabia, its myopia regarding the plight of the Palestinians, and its abject cynicism in sending young soldiers to Iraq - there to bleed into the sand for a war premised on a paper-thin tissue of lies. Whatever you might think of him, just watch that video, and see if this is not the stuff politics should be made of - the powerful, poignant articulation of truths designed to hold power to account.

And how very different it all is from our everyday parliamentary fare. Cameron and Miliband taking swipes at one another, using the kind of prosthetic quips one feels could only have been fabricated by their respective PR gurus. But the plastic-like quality of their politics is far from incidental. Labour peers have great difficulty in mounting substantial criticisms of the coalition - they can't properly take them to task on issues like Iraq and Afghanistan - after all, it was their party which instigated those wars. Student tuition fees? Again, introduced on Labour's watch. Cuts to the public sector? Labour might intimate the conservatives are moving too hard and too fast on this front, but in qualitative terms the positions of both parties remain identical.

And so it necessarily falls to a lone voice, a figure like Galloway, who retains a degree of independence from the political mainstream, to make the kind of points we might otherwise not hear. For this, he remains a precious asset to the left. But the same rarity brings with it certain unfortunate consequences. When Galloway does make a blunder, as he did last year with his noxious comments smacking of rape apologism, many on the left are all too quick to present him with a get out of jail free card; criticism toward him is simply dismissed as the product of right-wing antagonists looking for any excuse to interject and undermine.

A case in point. Last week Galloway walked out of a debate with a young man later saying "I don't debate with Israelis. I don't recognise Israel". This at once generated a flurry of criticism. And some of it was, to my mind, justified. I don't mean the shrill voices which shrieked about racism in the same papers which regularly carry stories of sinister foreigners milking the system and refusing to integrate. Galloway's comments are problematic for an altogether different reason. Their logic is largely self-defeating. Galloway has been a key figure in highlighting the injustice the Palestinians have faced on the part of an intransigent Israeli state which, for its continued incursions into the West Bank has been described by human rights organisation Amnesty International as in 'flagrant violation of international law.'

But when he graduates his criticism from a condemnation of the Israeli state to an indiscriminate indictment of his opponent's nationality, he is committing a significant error. Twenty per cent of Israeli nationals are Arabs. And, of equal significance - there are a considerable number of Israeli Jews vehemently opposed to the violent and illegal transgressions of their military state machine. In September 2011 up to 300,000 Israelis protested in Tel-Aviv demanding social justice - Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews linked arms in the streets in what were inspiring and moving scenes. When Galloway deploys the category of 'Israeli' in the manner in which he has, he inevitably blurs and abstracts these vital political distinctions and differences within Israeli society - whether he intends it or not.

Indeed the toxic actions of the military wing of Hamas express the same logic, albeit to murderous proportions, when they fire missiles into Tel Aviv, for in so doing, they too refuse to distinguish between broader layers of the citizenry of a country - and a military state and the powerful elite which provide the bulwark for its crimes. And all the graduations in between.

Ultimately there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestine question 'from above.' The Israeli state is financed and empowered by the US government precisely because it remains in a perpetual condition of military readiness; it is, consequently, an attack dog which never sleeps, which always has one eye open, ready to protect US financial interests in the region, and to be deployed at a moment's notice. It is a specific but inevitable expression of its symbiotic link to US imperialism through the latter's funding of a high-tech domestic economy which specialises in producing arms. As of 2012 Israel was the world's eighth largest exporter of military goods. Its militarism, therefore, is inexorably fused with its structural nature.

For this reason, any genuine resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict can only come from below. The possibility of solidarity and cohesion between both Arabs and Jews at the broader level in Israeli society provides the only viable social force by which the militaristic character of the Israeli-state might be fundamentally curtailed, and some degree of justice for the Palestinians finally attained. When Galloway dismisses a person on grounds of Israeli nationality he is, albeit in a small way, militating against the process by which this can happen.