Laura Marcus

George Galloway made me a Zionist

Laura Marcus reflects on his threat to sue her for retweet alleging he was antisemitic

November 24, 2016 23:20

When George Galloway threatened to sue me last year over a retweet alleging he was antisemitic (a claim he strenuously rejected) it had an effect I'm pretty certain he never intended. It made me feel more Jewish than ever and turned me into a staunch Zionist. Though my father, olev hashalom, fought in 1948 in Israel's War of Independence, and although many members of my family have visited, I've never felt this burning need many Jews have to go to Israel. Now I do. Thanks to Galloway.

Nothing reaffirms your sense of tribal belonging as much as when you feel your tribe is under attack. In the same way, we can criticise our families but take up cudgels against anyone else who does the same. Being threatened with a libel action after defending a fellow Jew on Twitter made me feel a loyalty the strength of which surprised me.

At the end of February 2015, I was one of about a dozen Twitter alleged tortfeasors threatened by Galloway's solicitors, Chambers of Bradford. We each received identical letters warning us of a libel suit we were assured they would win. In fact, so identical were these letters that several were addressed to me. So much for the warning in the letter demanding I tell no one - Chambers outed me themselves.

Galloway's legal team didn't see the need to wait for judge and jury to award damages. They demanded that within a week I pay £5,000, plus VAT, to cover Galloway's legal costs. This felt very fishy to me. So I got in touch with Mark Stephens, media lawyer and partner at Howard Kennedy, and he offered to represent me. He told me to keep shtum and he'd deal with it.

He responded telling Chambers we did not accept it was libel as the law entitles people to express honestly held opinions. We waited but we heard… nothing. No writ was ever issued. Libel is time limited to a year which has now passed. Galloway can no longer bring an action against me. I am free at last to talk openly about this.

Getting that letter from Galloway's solicitors, sent originally in an email which I received at 10pm on a Monday night, was the most terrifying thing that's ever happened to me. This menacing demand for a great deal of money I simply didn't have felt like an attack. I thought I'd lose my house. The letter warned that a charge could be put on my property and bankruptcy proceedings brought. For a year, this hung over me and my fellow Twitter "tortfeasors". One of them, who still wishes to remain anonymous, set up a Twitter account @SuedbyGalloway to offer help and support to those who'd received these letters. Several barristers and solicitors offered advice. A movement began and grew.

We got in touch with each other, exchanged emails, tweets, private messages, phone calls and texts. A number of those threatened were also Jewish, though not everyone was. But we all felt outraged at being targeted by a then sitting MP. We became friends. We've remained friends. I felt part of a community again, albeit an online one. Never underestimate the power of connection and communication the internet can offer to people scattered all over the country. Friendships made in adversity are often the ones that last the longest. We have a bond now; we turned a nasty negative into a warm positive.

My father had warned me that although I could try to forget I was Jewish if I wanted to, move away from the faith if I could, the world would never let me forget that I'm a Jew. Seeing a fellow Jew threatened with legal action by Galloway on Twitter last year sent my hackles skywards. You attack one Jew - you attack us all.

For being Jewish isn't just about going to shul every week, keeping kosher or praying. It's always been about much more. It was a horrible experience having this threat hanging over. Not something I wanted for myself in later middle age, a time I could've expected to wind down and relax a little.

But there's nothing like a touch of tsores to bring out the strength you didn't know you had. I told no one in my family about this as I didn't want them to worry. That was tough. Now this dark shadow has lifted from my life there is light, relief and joy. And a feeling I know many other Jews have: I will get to Israel before I die.

November 24, 2016 23:20

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive