‘Stop Being Afraid’ is Jonathan Hunter, the British student’s message, to pro-Israel activists after his Oxford confrontation with notorious anti-Israel MP.
By Ari Soffer
Two says ago, the 2nd-year History student at Britain’s prestigious Oxford University achieved internet fame, when a video of him confronting Galloway during an Oxford Union debate went viral on social media sites and news sites, including Arutz Sheva.
In the video, Hunter can be heard challenging a surprised-looking Galloway during the Q&A session – first in Hebrew (his mother is Israeli) and then in English – about his support for Middle Eastern dictatorships and his infamous decision, branded “racist” by some, to walk out of a debate with student Eylon Aslan-Levy, upon finding out that he was Israeli.
At one point, Galloway can be heard saying that he felt “threatened” and demanded to known what Hunter was hiding under his sweater – at which point the 19 year-old student pulls out an Israeli flag, to Galloway’s obvious bemusement.
Before being escorted out by security, Hunter parodied Galloway’s own remarks to Aslan-Levy that “I don’t debate with Israelis,” by declaring: “I do not have a question for you, because I do not debate with racists,” before unfurling the Israeli flag and making his exit, to applause from members of the audience.
In an exclusive interview with Arutz Sheva, Hunter explains why he decided not to stay silent – and relays an important message to British Jewry and fellow pro-Israel activists.
Were you involved in Israel advocacy before this event?
In Oxford I have been quite involved in pro-Israel campaigning, along with some other students, but I’m not a member of any formal group.
We’ve actually had quite a lot of victories in the past.
For example, when the Oxford student union was debating a motion which would have mandated the university to boycott Israeli institutions, Eylan and I helped lobby the various colleges and people and succeeded in getting a 7-1 majority against the motion. It was a landslide victory.
And then there was our success at highlighting George Galloway’s racism [towards Eylan], and getting it into the national press. If we hadn’t pushed the issue it would have remained consigned to the student papers.
But I’m not formally involved with any specific organizations. I’m just a supporter of Israel. Yes, I see myself as an advocate for Israel, but not particularly aligned with any one group.
So what motivated you to do what you did?
This isn’t the first time Galloway has come to the Oxford Union – which is famous for being a debating forum which prides itself on upholding freedom of speech…
But after what he did last time, we couldn’t stay quiet.
Would you believe that flyers for the event were billing Galloway as “one of the most impressive debators in modern British politics”…?
That would be a sad reflection on the level of debate within modern British politics…!
But of course, he wouldn’t speak to Eylon!
In fact, even after I confronted him about his racist refusal to speak with Israelis, he acted as if Eylon didn’t even exist.
A lot of papers quoted Galloway’s comments after I left about a “hapless fellow” during one of his last talks, and made it sound like he was referring to Eylon. In fact, he was referring to another student who had challenged him about something else altogether… He just would not acknowledge that the incident had ever happened…
So this time we decided that there would be no dialogue with him because he refused to have a dialogue with us.
How did the audience respond?
Overall quite positively. A few people stood up and there was quite a lot of clapping and sympathy.
But the most support I got was after the event. I got emails from people I’d never met thanking me for what I’d done.
That’s quite interesting, isn’t it, given the perception of the British university scene as being largely anti-Israel?
Maybe, but in Oxford most people are generally sympathetic towards Israel – you just have a group of pro-Palestinian activists who tend to be more vocal and active, so it looks like they represent popular opinion. But they don’t.
That’s something which I’ve seen during my time in London as well. There’s this facade of diversity because you have a wide range of extremists who you wouldn’t really put together in any other setting – far-left and far-right; Islamist and Marxist…
Yes, that’s definitely true. The anti-Israel movement is very diverse yet completely unrepresentative at the same time. It’s a complete paradox.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t an anti-Israel presence here in Oxford. Like I said, there certainly is.
Next month, for example, Norman Finkelstein will be coming to speak, and every year at the Oxford Union there is some kind of debate over Israel’s ‘right to exist’.”
But I think it [anti-Israel sentiment] is less than in many London universities, and the sympathy here is much more pro-Israel.
Your actions were not typical of the slightly more “softly softly” approach that the British Jewish establishment is famous for. What do you think Israel advocates in general can learn from your experience?
Among students people are scared [of challenging anti-Israel activists].
One of the reasons I did what I did is that I am not scared of Galloway. In fact, Galloway was far more afraid – his hands were trembling, when all I did was challenge him publicly.
People shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for what they believe, to stand up for the truth.
Did you think your actions would receive so much media attention?
I certainly knew it would be picked up by the student press, and that there was a journalist present from the Independent [newspaper]. But I didn’t know it would spread so fast.
If you could give one message to other British Jews and pro-Israel activists, what would it be?
Don’t be silent. That would be it really.
Silence is a bigger crime… not speaking out is a greater crime than racism from the likes of Galloway.
That’s quite a harsh thing to say…
Well yes, but it is essentially giving up. This pessimistic attitude that ‘there’s no point because there are more of them than us,’ or a fear of being manhandled by security… Just try!
Don’t be embarrassed and don’t be afraid. You will always get good publicity from it and trust me, it’s really not the end of the world.
Video of Jonathan Hunter’s confrontation with George Galloway:
View original Arutz Sheva publication at: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/172932#.UmAPIBCPlgh