GAlloway BBCQT

George Galloway reacts to jeers from the Question Time audience in Finchley

George Galloway vehemently rejected accusations that he’s stoked the flames of anti-Semitism during heated exchanges with fellow panelists and audience members on BBC1’s Question Time on Thursday night, writes Jack Mendel.

The Respect Party MP appeared on the TV panel debate, held at North Finchley’s Arts Depot, on the same day the CST revealed 2014 had been a record year for anti-Semitism in the UK.

Following two relatively innocuous discussions on business and schools, the final audience question – posed by Gabriel Rosen – saw sparks fly.

Rosen asked: “Why is anti-Semitism rising in the UK and do you think a certain member of the panel may bare some responsibility for this?”

Guardian journalist and fellow panel member Jonathan Freedland responded first, saying: “Some of the rhetoric around Israel becomes so heated and so enflamed that people that cannot hold that distinction a country seven thousand miles away and Jews in the UK.”

Before Galloway was given a chance to reply, the journalist added: “I know he is usually very careful to draw distinctions between Jews and Israel, but some of the rhetoric and ideas he has planted on Israel have fed anti-Semitism.”

Freedland continued: “If people believe that Israel is the source of all evil in the world, they are going to eventually not going to be able to contain themselves and lash out at Jewish targets.” He concluded that people like Galloway “need to exercise great responsibility, because it’s incendiary and can lead to hate”.

Galloway faced a barrage of heckling, including remarks “You support Hezbollah” and “You’re not welcome here.” And when he referred to being physically attacked three times, an audience member shouted: “I wonder why.”

However, the Bradford MP roundly rejected any link between his strong anti-Israel views and the recent rise of anti-Semitism in the UK. He also said Freedland had given “credence to the absolutely false allegation implicit in the question” that he was in some way responsible.

As members of the audience continued to protest, Galloway asked: “Am I on trial here?” He also stressed it was ‘”a dangerous conflation” and a “false synonym” to say “Israel and Zionism are the same as Judaism and Jewishness.” He warned: “Anyone that confuses these two are making a grave mistake.”

One unnamed female audience member, referring to Galloway’s declaration that Bradford was an “Israel free zone”, accused the MP of importing the Middle East conflict into Britain and “putting the British Jewish community in the frontline at a volatile time”.

The other panelists on the show were journalist Christina Odone, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt.