Vehemently anti-Israel figure George Galloway sworn into Parliament as Israel-Hamas war roils British politics

World News

LONDON (JR) — Jewish groups across Britain have voiced concern at the election of a veteran anti-Zionist politician to the U.K. parliament, following a bitterly fought campaign that was dominated by the Israel-Hamas war.

George Galloway was elected in the northern town of Rochdale after an election campaign that underscored how the crisis in the Middle East is affecting British politics.

Galloway, representing the far-left Workers Party of Britain after being ejected from the Labour Party two decades ago, was elected with just shy of 40% of the vote. He had based his campaign around appealing to the large Muslim minority in Rochdale.

“This is for Gaza,” he opened his acceptance speech Friday morning, accusing the opposition Labour Party of “enabling, encouraging and covering” Israeli actions in the war in Gaza. The Labour Party had no candidate on the ballot in Rochdale after withdrawing its support for a candidate who had been found to have made antisemitic remarks and entertained conspiracy theories about the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

In subsequent interviews, Galloway refused to say whether he believed that Israel had a right to exist. Chris Williamson, the deputy leader of the Workers Party who was suspended from the Labour Party in 2019 for antisemitism, reacted to the win by telling a broadcaster that Israel was “killing more children every day than actually were being killed in Auschwitz.”

Galloway is an ardent anti-Zionist who was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for his opposition to the Iraq War and support for deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He subsequently won elections in east London and Bradford, another town in northern England, by running populist, Middle East-centric campaigns aimed at Muslim voters.

Relegated to appearances on Russian and Iranian state broadcasters in recent years, Galloway has used the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza to resurrect his political career. His success underscores the degree to which many British voters, particularly Muslim voters, are angry over the lack of international censure for Israel in its campaign in Gaza.

It also suggests that the Middle East war could be a pivotal issue in U.K. electoral politics as it increasingly appears to be in the United States, where more than 100,000 people voted “uncommitted” in the Michigan Democratic presidential primary last week to protest the Biden administration’s support for Israel.

And it comes at a time when British politics are already in turmoil over the war. Police have been increasing security for lawmakers on both the left and right who say they are facing threats over their Israel stances and explosive debate over a ceasefire motion roiling parliament last week. One lawmaker, Mike Freer from the Conservative Party, has announced that he will exit politics after receiving death threats that he believes are coming from antisemites angry about his pro-Israel views.

Rabbi Daniel Epstein shows Britain’s Prince William a 17th-century Torah scroll during the Prince of Wales’ visit to the Western Marble Arch Synagogue, in London, on Feb. 29, 2024. (Photo by Toby Melville/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid the ferment, Prince William visited a synagogue last week to reassure Jews that the royal family is “extremely concerned” about antisemitism despite health crises that have sidelined both King Charles III and Williams’ wife Catherine. And Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decried growing extremism over the Israeli-Hamas war, specifically taking aim at Galloway in Rochdale.

Galloway’s victory in the town near Manchester — in what is called a by-election, held when a seat opens up between regularly scheduled elections — drew universal concern and condemnation from Jewish groups across Britain.

The Board of Deputies, the largest representative body for British Jews, said he should be “shunned as a pariah by all parliamentarians” once he is sworn in.

“George Galloway is a demagogue and a conspiracy theorist, who has brought the politics of division and hate to every place he has ever stood for Parliament,” the group said in a statement. “His election is a dark day for the Jewish community.”

The Jewish Leadership Council, another representative body, said Galloway had “once again used a by-election to exploit fault lines in community cohesion. It will be worrying to many in the community that he will now have a platform in Parliament again to further spread his hatred.”

Locally, the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester, which represents Jewish communities in the region, said the result was a “cause of significant concern.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters assemble in Hyde Park before a march through central London, Oct. 21, 2023. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

It added that it had “no doubt” that Galloway would “hinder” efforts to build bridges and ensure that “a conflict taking place thousands of miles away is not used as an excuse to target Jewish people across the region.”

The Labour Party had been expected to win Rochdale but withdrew support for its local candidate, Azhar Ali, after he was found to have put stock in conspiracies relating to Israeli involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks. The party has been grappling with internal rancor over its positioning on the conflict.

The campaign had been among the most bitter elections in recent history, with a slate of controversial candidates standing in a town that has been blighted by child sexual exploitation scandals and local tensions.

It is likely that Galloway’s return to parliament will be short-lived as he will face an uphill battle to retain the seat from Labour in the coming general election. But Galloway, who is known as an impassioned public speaker, is likely to use what time he has in office to embarrass the Labour Party and raise Palestinian issues.

The conflict in Gaza has become a deeply divisive issue in Britain. Last week, during a vote on Gaza, the speaker of the House of Commons was forced to apologize after offering lawmakers a range of options to vote on, in a departure from parliamentary rules that prevented a ceasefire measure from being voted on.

The debate had been initiated by the Scottish National Party, which put forward a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire on a rare day when it had the right to dictate parliamentary action. The motion also condemned what it said was Israel’s imposition of “collective punishment” on Palestinians in Gaza.

Protesters wave Israeli flags and hold photos of people held hostage by Hamas in Gaza during a demonstration outside the prime minister’s offices in London, Nov. 19, 2023. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, allowed the Labour and Conservative parties, which oppose a ceasefire, to amend the resolution against rules that ordinarily would have blocked them from making changes.

Hoyle’s critics charged that he made the change to prevent embarrassment to his own Labour Party if, as expected, as many as 100 Labour lawmakers voted for the ceasefire resolution against the instruction of their party’s leadership.

But Hoyle said he had departed from norms because of the extraordinary moment, in which members of parliament say they are afraid for their safety. The implication was that Labour politicians could face dangerous violence if they were forced to vote either for or against a ceasefire without having the option to endorse a humanitarian pause in fighting.

Hoyle has now faced calls for his resignation over the incident. He apologized on the floor of the House of Commons last week after both Conservatives and Scottish National Party members stormed out in protest.

“I regret how it’s ended up,” Hoyle said. “It was not my intention. I wanted all to ensure they could express their views. … I thought I was doing the right thing.”

Galloway was sworn in Monday morning amid the latest sign of the new signs emerged at the degree to which his election could add tinder to an already flammable situation. A leader of the Houthis, the Yemeni rebel group that has been firing on Red Sea ships in solidarity with the Palestinians, tweeted that further attacks on British ships could be prevented if Galloway personally guarantees that additional aid will enter Gaza.