In the most fractious Question Time of recent years, George Galloway clashed with fellow panelist Jonathan Freedland and a large, vocal bank of audience members on Thursday following a question on the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the UK.
Earlier that day 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, asking about the rise, implied the Respect MP, who last year declared Bradford an "Israel-free zone", had contributed to an anti-Semitic fervor.
Guardian columnist Freedland, who identified himself as a member of the Jewish community, tied the “upsurge" to the "resumption of violence in Gaza”, warning that the rhetoric around Israel became so “inflamed” that people struggled to make the distinction between Israel and Jews.
He then attacked Galloway for his own language around Israel, suggesting the Respect MP had drawn 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 this week's show, 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. During the segment, several members of the audience struggled to contain their antipathy, shouting repeatedly at Galloway despite David Dimbleby’s remonstrations.
“You’re not welcome here,” shouted one audience member. Galloway, unperturbed, shot back, “You will not stop me speaking however much you shout.”
Galloway was interviewed by police under caution last year after describing Bradford, where he is an MP, as an "Israel-free zone", during the conflict in Gaza last year
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 [that 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?" said George. "I’m being bayed at by the audience, I’ve been directly accused by another panelist…”
Galloway said the conflation of Jewishness and Israel was “dangerous” and a “false synonym”, adding: “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 then chastised Freedland for saying the current rise in anti-Semitism in the UK was the result of a “resumption of violence" in Gaza. "What he meant to say was the mass murder of 2136 Palestinians locked up in a prison camp called Gaza, five hundred of those children," he sniffed.
In a bizarre vignette, Galloway said 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 anti-Semitism in Britain could be said many fold about Islamophobia and the fear of Muslims in Britain”.
Earlier Galloway 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. Unfortunately for George, the hungry lions did attack...