Anyone who has ever seen George Galloway in action knows why he had to be stopped at the border. He definitely poses a threat — although not the security one alleged by the Harper government.
Rather, Galloway, a five-times elected member of the British Parliament, poses a threat to Stephen Harper’s ability to sell Canadians on our involvement in the Afghan war and on Ottawa’s support for Israel in its battle against the Palestinians.
Galloway is a fierce, effective critic on both fronts. With the mental toughness of Noam Chomsky and the showmanship of Mick Jagger, Galloway slices through the pro-war apologetics of political leaders like a knife through warm butter.
So it’s not surprising Harper wasn’t keen about Galloway coming to Canada. Even without the controversy of the ban, Galloway promised to attract huge audiences and stir up the kind of anti-war feeling that brought thousands onto Canadian streets last January to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza, and Ottawa’s refusal to condemn it.
Media commentators have missed the point by treating the ban as purely a free-speech issue, and suggesting Galloway should be heard, despite his odious views.
Galloway’s views aren’t odious. In fact, they’re in sync with millions of Canadians. In a recent Angus Reid poll, 48 per cent of Canadians wanted our troops brought home from Afghanistan before the scheduled 2011 withdrawal. A BBC poll showed Canadians have more negative than positive views of Israel — even before the Gaza bombing, which UN human rights investigator Richard Falk said last month “would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude.”
It was fear of Galloway galvanizing anti-war sentiment in peace-oriented Canadians that prompted Ottawa to brand him a terrorist supporter — for providing urgently needed cash and medical supplies to Hamas, the democratically elected government in Gaza. As a result, Galloway only appeared in Canada via videolink from the United States, where he was allowed to move about freely and address packed houses, apparently without threatening U.S. national security.
The Galloway episode highlights how Harper has abandoned any pretense of even-handedness in the Middle East. (Last month, Canada was the only country to vote against a UN resolution opposing the expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.)
Indeed, it seems likely Israel had a hand in the decision to ban Galloway from Canada. In March 2008, the Harper government signed a broad-ranging security pact with Israel. The pact, which has received scant attention in Canada’s Parliament or media, established close Canada-Israeli co-operation in “border management and security,” under a management committee comprised of Canada’s deputy minister of public safety and Israel’s director general of public security.
So was the decision to ban Galloway not only absurd and anti-democratic, but also influenced by a foreign government?
Canadian government spokesperson Alykhan Velshi denied this yesterday. But what exactly does this secretive management committee do, and how might it affect Canada’s Muslim and Arab populations?
Clearly, we need a thorough public review of the Canada-Israel security pact — a task made all the more urgent now that the Israeli cabinet includes the extremist Avigdor Lieberman, who once mused publicly about drowning Palestinian prisoners.
Peace groups have been pushing Harper to establish a department of peace. But he prefers to suppress the case against war, only permitting us to hear it most fully articulated via videolink from free sites outside our borders.
Linda McQuaig is author of It’s the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet.