Shameful is not often a word one would ordinarily associate with Christ Church College, Oxford. However, last night, it became the venue for an act that can only be described as such.
During a debate on the motion of "Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank" between George Galloway -- a British member of parliament -- and Oxford student Eylon Aslan-Levy, it became apparent that Aslan-Levy was, in fact, an Israeli. Realizing this, as can be witnessed on this YouTube excerpt, Galloway stood up, gathered his coat, and announced: "I don't debate with Israelis, I've been misled, sorry." He then walked out into the Oxford night, to jeers and catcalls from a stunned audience.
Later, Galloway justified his walkout: "No recognition of Israel. No normalisation. Christ Church never informed us the debate would be with an Israeli. Simple." In this statement lies the rub.
It is not Galloway's politics that shock me; in fact, I am beyond being appalled by his publicity-driven persona. Nor is it his apparent disregard for the art of debate or his need to cringingly justify himself through social media. No, it goes deeper; the shameful act was his need to actively control the person that he was speaking with.
Galloway probably believes that he was making a noble statement worthy of a grand revolutionary leader, or maybe just of a leader: a speech of "No surrender!" to a perfidious enemy. Maybe he thought he was representing a constituency of disenfranchised Palestinians by refusing a dialogue with an Israeli. But he is heavily misguided.
In refusing to debate, Galloway aligned himself not with the disenfranchised Palestinian people he chose to represent, but with the extreme, unpleasant edges of both Israeli and Palestinian discourse. He did not heighten the prospect of peace with this act, but further fueled the conflict.
My concern is not for Galloway, who already harbours changeably confused and confusing political views on a myriad of issues, but for the example he has set as both a British Member of Parliament and a loud voice in this most delicate of international issues.
His example is one of intolerance. In Galloway's word, it is acceptable to walk out of a controversial debate on the ground of your opponent’s origin before you even hear their views. The symbolic removal of an opponent’s agency and Galloway’s desire to control him leave a very bitter taste in any mouth.
The region, and more specifically the Israel-Palestine issue, needs more than such an infantile gesture. It merits a broader, deeper discussion based on a debate of ideas, solutions, and compassion. It deserves better than a cheap political point based on a stranger’s nationality.
If such a debate ever takes place in the near future, Mr. Galloway should probably not be invited.