CANADA SHOULD PAY CLOSE ATTENTION NOT SO MUCH TO THE SPEAKER BUT TO THOSE WHO SUPPORT HIM….
Former British MP, banned from Canada last year, draws sell-out crowd
TORONTO— From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010 9:25PM EST
Last updated Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010 12:05AM EST
George Galloway kicked off a cross-country speaking tour by coming to York University, one of the places most polarized by Middle Eastern politics.
While a sold-out crowd of 500 gathered in a university auditorium on Tuesday to hear him, hundreds of others packed the hallway outside to protest against his presence.
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Such controversy is not unusual for the outspoken former British MP, kicked out of the Labour Party in 2003 for denouncing his country’s invasion of Iraq. He became a household name in Canada last year when he was barred from entering the country over an alleged donation to Hamas, a Palestinian organization that Canada considers a terrorist group.
That ban – eventually overturned by the courts – virtually ensured that his tour would be closely watched.
Mr. Galloway opened his speech with an acknowledgment of his new-found fame in Canada.
“As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted 18 months ago ..,” he said to cheers, before jokingly thanking Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who upheld the ban last year. “As any bookseller might have told him, the books they try to ban always make it onto the bestseller list.”
During his speech, Mr. Galloway linked his political interests to Canada’s foreign policy, criticizing the government’s announcement this week that it would keep troops in Afghanistan after next year to help train Afghan soldiers. He argued that, after nine years, Western military involvement has failed to bring peace.
He heaped scorn on the Harper government for what he portrayed as its close relationship with Israel’s Likud administration, arguing that Canada’s backing of Israel was partly to blame for its loss of a seat on the United Nations Security Council to Portugal.
“Canada is dangerously isolating itself, painting itself into a corner,” he said.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside before the speech and remained throughout, their distant cheers and boos audible in the theatre. Waving Israeli flags and chanting “not on my campus, not on my dime,” demonstrators said they were angry that the student union had organized the event.
Police officers and security guards formed a cordon between demonstrators and the door to the venue.
“In my personal opinion, someone who’s an ally with the world’s biggest enemies should be banned from the country,” said York student Idan Mizrahi, 24.
Mr. Galloway dismissed that notion in his speech, saying the aid he brought to Palestinians was humanitarian in nature and that he did not support Hamas.
His supporters, meanwhile, said they weren’t bothered by the protests, an inevitable facet of the speaker’s unlikely popularity.
“I welcome it, this is one of the freedoms we cherish in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the York Federation of Students.
Mr. Galloway ended his speech with a call for a single state in the Levant, unifying Israelis and Arabs under a single government, in contrast to the two-state solution that has long been the objective of international peace processes.
Mr. Galloway’s tour will take him to 10 more cities — from Montreal to Yellowknife — and includes a stop in Calgary, where he has vowed to stand outside Mr. Kenney’s constituency office and challenge him to a debate.
A spokesman for the minister poured cold water on the idea of a debate, saying that his previous assertion — that the government wasn’t going to be giving the ex-MP any attention — still stands.