flower and fence

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WHY has the election of a single MP in a northern town got the political and media establishment so rattled – and why now?

George Galloway has been elected as an MP several times in the past,  and his election then did not elicit such a reaction. His character and personal dealings have been questioned – but perhaps no more so than many who sit on the green benches, or even around the Cabinet table? So why did his election this time prompt such an extraordinary statement from the Prime Minister?

Perhaps this time, the political and media establishment is afraid that part of a narrative on which they have mutually built their careers is unravelling in front of their eyes. The slaughter in Gaza is causing many more people to pay attention and ask questions, and whereas in the past we would have seen a polished Israeli spokesperson confidently shut down any accusation of wrongdoing, we now have access to our own sources of information. We can see the massacres on our phones, we can hear the agonised voices of Gazan men, women and children. It is no longer easy to explain this away. So, despite them being dubbed ‘hate marches’, good people of all faiths and none have continued to march on streets across the UK to call for a ceasefire. Many who cannot march are with them in spirit.

Meanwhile, we have seen politicians who are supposed to represent our views defending dreadful inhumanity, insisting that an occupying power has the right to bombard and starve a trapped civilian population. But the propaganda is no longer working. The disconnect is too great. Something is breaking, and perhaps the politicians and journalists can see the cracks appearing.

This begs the question – why are western politicians so determined to arm and defend Israel, often against the wishes of their own populations?

Perhaps for some people, the state of Israel represents a wider world order which they desperately want to preserve. As President Biden first said in 1986, and has repeated recently: “Were there not an Israel the USA would have to invent an Israel to protect her interest in the region.” In a fascinating article in the London Review of Books, Forrest Hylton writes: “Since the late 1970s, not even Canada has been as important as Israel to maintaining the US empire in the Western Hemisphere.”

Support for this world order, in which the west established outposts to protect its interests, and concealed its crimes with whatever fictions served its purpose, is now threatened. With greater education and greater access to information, the fictions are becoming more and more difficult to maintain. For too many people, it’s no longer credible to see Israel as a beleaguered but plucky little democracy surrounded by evil neighbours. People are looking at the US supplying bombs to be dropped on Gaza and asking – who are the bad guys?

In this context, it felt supremely appropriate that it was South Africa which took Israel to the International Court of Justice. Having cast off an apartheid regime supported by Margaret Thatcher, South Africa is now challenging an apartheid regime which is also supported by many western governments. It feels like the tentative beginnings of a process in which the wrongs of the past could be unravelled and set right.

And this, perhaps, is where Mr Galloway becomes significant. Whatever we may think about his character or however strongly we disagree with his views, he does have a remarkable knack of bursting some of the foreign policy bubbles which have been carefully inflated over decades. He asks questions which should be asked, and states some seriously inconvenient truths. When he appeared before a Senate Committee in the US, for instance, he admitted that yes, he had met Saddam Hussein – but not to sell him weapons, as the US Secretary for Defence Donald Rumsfeld had.

And if we want to see why the established media may be disturbed by Galloway’s election, look at this interview with a Sky journalist in Rochdale soon after Galloway was elected. It’s not pretty – but it makes most other political interviews look pretty vacuous by comparison. For a public heartily sick of politicians who never answer questions, and journalists who seem to be part of the same cosy club, it’s further evidence of how the media usually works not to challenge established narratives, but to echo and promote them. Mr. Galloway’s presence on the political stage may cast a very harsh spotlight on this status quo.

Having said this, it’s very regrettable that individual politicians working in this atmosphere may feel anxious or even fear for their personal safety. Violence or intimidation can never be condoned, and private homes and families should be out of bounds. But we know the rich can easily buy access to ministers and influence government policy – they don’t need to heckle or berate. Meanwhile the ‘ordinary’ citizen can write a letter or an email which all too often receives a formulaic reply dictated by the party leadership. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that some people feel compelled to approach politicians on the street when the opportunity arises, and in that precious minute or two of ,try to get their point across, sometimes too forcefully. Whilst this may feel threatening, it might help if politicians showed themselves more willing to engage, and perhaps ask themselves why people feel so frustrated.

Maybe the UK’s divisions around Israel and Gaza are so keenly felt because they encapsulate a wider struggle. A struggle between an airbrushed past based on the injustice of empire and colonialism, and a possible future where that injustice can be acknowledged and addressed. A struggle between the powerful and the powerless, freedom and domination. Fundamentally, a struggle between humanity and inhumanity. This I believe is why passions run so high, and why it feels that so much is at stake. Palestinians are enduring unimaginable suffering. If the world allows them to be crushed again, it could feel to many people that their hope for a more humane world has also been crushed.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. Her latest book is Illness, Disability and Caring: A Bible study for individuals and groups (DLT, 2020). Her latest articles can be found here. Past columns (up to 2020) are archived here. You can follow Bernadette on Twitter: @BernaMeaden