Oxford Anti-Israel Walkout: An Insult to Everyone

It has long been obvious that the British university boycott on Israeli colleagues was antisemitism dressed as anti-Zionism.  It has been an ongoing insult to all academics and students, wherever they are. The University campus is the last place to ban Israelis from public discussion in an open society.  This week, when British MP George Galloway stormed out of Oxford University, he took the anti-intellectual force of campus antisemitism to a whole new level.  Faced with debating 21 year old Aslan-Levy, Galloway, abruptly interrupted the undergraduate when he realized the young speaker had referred to Israel as ‘we’.   Stating he had been ‘misled’, he walked out of the packed Oxford University lecture theatre, stating that he does not debate with Israelis.

Galloway’s public exit, caught on video, gives clear insight that anti-Israel political grandstanding at an esteemed place of learning is not only ‘racist’ – this was not lost on the students who heckled him as he left – but it is virulently anti-intellectual, anti-social and anti-democratic.

There was a time when I would have deemed such action to have been a pure and brutal form of antisemitism, but what Galloway so eloquently demonstrated with his cowardly departure from an open debate, is that antisemitism is an insult to all.  As a standing member of the British Parliament, Mr Galloway, has a duty to uphold the highest standards in public life, would would think he would have debating skills more proficient than the average 21 year old, and should be able to state his political and intellectual case clearly to an audience, who may not share his views, but has been curious enough to attend in order to hear his views in a fine university.  One would also assume that he would have assessed his own intellectual ability to engage a room full of precocious over-achievers before he set foot in the famed colleges.

Apparently, Mr Galloway struggled on all fronts. Whatever his views on Israel, if he is not able to discuss them in public, then one doubts his ability to serve the interests of public on that policy issue and in other areas of national debate.  If he is not able to discuss his views with a curious and intelligent group of young leaders, then how does he expect that leadership to grow to become the defenders of free speech and democracy that we all wish to preserve?  If he thinks that the dual citizenship of one undergraduate student is sufficient to count as a ‘set-up’, is he suggesting the introduction of racially or nationally derived identity checks on our campuses to protect his political immunity?

Mr Galloway does not agree with the policies of the State of Israel, views with which I happen to disagree and would be pleased to debate with him.  I am a British born, former student at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew Studies and spent many hours enjoying stimulating and controversial debate in the Oxford Union.  What insults us all with his public walkout is his intellectual, political and moral cowardice.  He sets extremely poor standards for a democratically elected leader who we would like to hold in high esteem at our Universities. Moreover, he insults all of us who are not Jewish.  Antisemitism is an attack on us all.

About the Author
Stephen D Smith is Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, whose Visual History Archive holds 52,000 testimonies of eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides. He founded the UK Holocaust Centre, The Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He was Project Director of the Kigali Genocide Centre, Rwanda. Smith, who trained as a Christian theologian, is an author, educator and researcher interested in memory of the Holocaust, and the causes and consequences of human conflict. Views expressed in this blog are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of USC Shoah Foundation.