Unionists have failed to prevent a public speaking event in Belfast featuring radical socialist George Galloway, the leader of the Respect Party in Britain, who has advocated a comprehensive boycott of Israel over its war crimes.
The staging of the event next Saturday had been opposed by the DUP the TUV as well as the UUP, and some city councillors called for a review of it. The Ulster Hall is owned by the city council.
On Friday, the council said the event would go ahead. It expressed concern that a decision to terminate the speaking engagement would face a legal challenge on the basis of freedom of expression, and that it also feared a claim for breach of contract.
The MP for Bradford West has been one of the strongest voices for a total boycott against Israel following its recent atrocities against the Palestinian people trapped in the Gaza enclave. Almost 2000 Palestinians have now died including 460 children in a campaign of genocide which has continued despite ceasefire negotiations.
One of those opposed to the event, Democratic Unionist (DUP) councillor Brian Kingston, accused the Scottish native of “rejecting and demonising an entire country and its people”, while another DUP man accused him of “spewing anti-Israel hatred”.
In response, Mr Galloway said: “To be lectured on good relations by the DUP is a bit like being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
“It’s a commercial contract with the Ulster Hall, signed, sealed and will be delivered, except on terms of very severe compensation.”
Outrage at Israel’s destruction and slaughter in Gaza has not abated in Ireland, and over 10,000 marched through Dublin city centre to the Israeli Embassy last weekend in support of people in Gaza.
The event was organised by the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Their campaign chairperson Freda Hughes said Israel’s military campaign in Gaza was a breach of international law and amounted to collective punishment of the people living there.
Speakers called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and boycott of goods. Sinn Fein’s spokesperson on foreign affairs Sean Crowe also addressed the protest, saying the large numbers in attendance “sent a clear message that Irish people will not stand idly by while Israel commits war crimes and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens”.
Meanwhile, a burgeoning grassroots campaign against Israel has seen more than 170 Irish academics sign a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel in support of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions). ‘Academics for Palestine’ have said that Irish universities have collaborated in EU-funded projects with Israeli counterparts who make drones, develop high-tech weapons and assist in carrying out killings in Palestinian areas.
“Students, teachers and schools have been targets of Israel’s brutal attacks in Gaza, making it an attack on education as well as a war crime,” they said.
The signatories include many well-known names, including the Trinity-College-based Haifa-born scholar Ronit Lentin.
Impromptu protests have also been taking place in chain stores stocking Israeli goods. Stores owned by the Asda and Sainsbury chains in Belfast have been struck by flashmob demonstrations to highlight the sanctions campaign. In footage published on the the internet, dozens packed into the supermarkets before taking numerous Israeli-linked products off the shelves.
Despite the protests, both the Dublin government and the multi-party Stormont administration continue to maintain strong links with Israel and with multinationals accused of being complicit in genocidal acts.
It is understood the ongoing controversy will be one of main issues discussed by Galloway at his event, which has already sold out.