George Galloway and Israel flags

The sacking of George Galloway from his talkRADIO show, for tweeting that there would be “No #Israël flags on the Cup!” following Liverpool’s victory over Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League final, met with widespread approval, including from some on the left.

The statement by talkRADIO justifying Galloway’s dismissal on the grounds that the station “does not tolerate anti-Semitic views” was predictably endorsed by Momentum’s founder-leader-owner Jon Lansman (“TalkRadio is right to sack George Galloway for what he said. Antisemitism must be rooted out and rejected by all socialists….”) Another left-wing critic even thought it was appropriate to compare Galloway to Oswald Mosley.

But was the tweet antisemitic? His opponents assert that Galloway’s comment about Israel flags was a reference to Spurs being “a team traditionally associated with a large Jewish supporter base”, as the Community Security Trust put it in a Facebook post reporting on Galloway’s sacking. According to that reasoning, Galloway’s tweet was an attack on the Jews who support Spurs.

A major flaw in this argument is that very few Spurs fans are actually Jewish. David Baddiel has said that Jews make up only around 3–4% of the club’s supporters. Other estimates put the figure at no more than 5%.

However, the myth that a large proportion of Spurs supporters are Jews has provided the basis for antisemitic abuse against the club from rival fans. In reaction to that abuse, many Spurs supporters refer to themselves as the Yids — embracing the racist nickname given to them by their opponents — and some of them wave Israeli flags.

This reaction itself has antisemitic overtones. How can it be acceptable for non-Jewish Spurs fans to refer to themselves as Yids? Or to brandish banners like the one above, which adds the slogan “Yid Army” plus the Spurs cockerel logo to the flag of Israel?

Given this context, it is wrong to assume that Galloway’s tweet about Israel flags was an antisemitic reference to Spurs’ non-existent “large Jewish supporter base”. It was arguably, as Galloway himself has contended, a straightforward reference to the fact that Spurs fans do indeed fly Israeli flags.

Understandably, as a long-time supporter of the Palestinian cause, Galloway resents that practice, seeing it as symbolising solidarity with a racist state. He expressed his views on the result of the Champions League final accordingly, without any demonstrable antisemitic intent.

As I’ve argued in a previous article, people who make unsubstantiated accusations of antisemitism against Galloway should bear in mind that their words can have material consequences. In 2014 Galloway was beaten to the ground by a far-right Zionist thug named Neil Masterson, who punched him repeatedly while shouting “Antisemitic little man, I fucking despise you”.

Evidently Masterson isn’t alone in wanting to exact violent retribution against Galloway. The Community Security Trust’s Facebook post on Galloway’s talkRADIO sacking features a comment that reads “Vile man with a face you just want to punch”. It’s been there for two days now and CST still hasn’t removed it.

First published on Medium in June 2019