In a speech that was remarkable for its lack of controversial statements, George Galloway began by thanking Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney for bringing him such great publicity. Kenney must be sorry he started all this, Galloway half-joked, noting that an ordinary speaking engagement is now garnering international headlines as a result of the ban. Even though he could not speak in person, Galloway was able to simulcast his scheduled March 31 presentation to the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) via the internet from his hotel room in New York City.
On March 21 2009, the Immigration department refused to allow the British Member of Parliament into Canada, on the grounds that he has supported terrorism by supplying humanitarian relief to the Hamas government in Gaza.
How can I be described as a terrorist? Galloway rhetorically asked, listing the supplies he brought to Gaza on March 9: ambulances, wheelchairs, medicine, tents, blankets, and particularly dangerous biscuits. He explained that although he is not a supporter of Hamas, he did give them the supplies because they are the democratically-elected government in Gaza, and that he supports democracy.
Galloway attributed the ban, not to his own actions in Gaza, but to lobbying efforts by the Jewish Defense League (JDL) — banned in the US by the FBI for being thugs as according to Galloway.
Galloway also went on to assert that the JDL has offered their support to the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in exchange for favourable policy decisions — by far his most controversial statement of the evening, although links between JDL and the Conservative Party of Canada are well-documented.
His only other controversial remark was when he proposed a One-State solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. In contrast to Dr. Norman Finklestein, who spoke at UTM earlier in the year and offered a Two-State solution, Galloway argued that Israelis and Palestinians should both live under one government, in one state, which represents both groups equally. The bulk of his presentation, however, focused on the plight of the Palestinian people — or non-people — under the current state of affairs.
One of the greatest crimes of the 20th century is now bleeding into the 21st, Galloway said, describing how after 1948, Palestinians were exiled, hunted, and wiped off the earth; with no passports, no government or recognized representatives. They were driven from their land and became refugees, he recounted. And so for forty-two years, Palestinians have had no vote and no rights.
Given those circumstances, he argued that Israels military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is both immoral and illegal, not to mention undemocratic. Refugees have rights, Galloway continued. Therefore Palestinians have rights, and one of those rights is to resist illegal occupation. He described the horror he experienced when he arrived in Gaza after the recent attacks by Israel as particularly inhumane. Unlike in most conflicts where civilians can flee from fighting, in Gaza the entire perimeter is controlled and sealed [by Israel], leaving a defenseless population to be shot like so many fish in a barrel, explained Galloway.
At this point, the organizers began passing around hats and bowls to be filled with donations, and many in the audience at the packed CCT 1080 lecture theatre donated very generously indeed. Almost $4,100 was raised through donations and ticket sales for the Gaza Coalition.
Speaking after the presentation, third-year political science student Farah Kalbouneh pointed out that she is extremely disappointed in the Conservative government of Canada and Minister Kenney. George Galloways message was peaceful. He talked about a one-state solution where both Palestinians and Israelis can form a democratic government together and give every citizen equal rights. It was ironic that his message is to promote peace and yet our government has banned him.
When opening the event, organizer Walied Khogali stressed the need to communicate to the Harper government that this ban does not reflect a democratic society. A former UTMSU President, Khogali thanked the more than seventy members of the UTM Gaza Coalition, and spoke convincingly about the kind of Canada that he knows and loves. The great thing about UTM is the number of people with different experiences and different backgrounds that can live and work together peacefully, he declared, to rousing applause. We cannot permit the government to silence us just because we are criticizing them.