On the morrow of George Galloway's victory in Bradford West, a colleague phoned to ask me whether this was "a good thing". For a moment I wondered what was meant by this question. "Democracy," I said, "is a good thing, and if Bradford West wants a cunning, extrovert, smooth-talking, publicity-seeking maverick political operator as its MP, so be it." This response didn't satisfy my interrogator. "Hadn't Galloway exploited the Muslim vote? Wasn't this introducing ethnicity and religion into politics? Wasn't this divisive and reprehensible?'
Well, of course Galloway exploited the Muslim vote. He'd have been a fool had he not done so (a showman Galloway might be, but he's no fool). Much of his campaign was focused on exploiting Anglo-Muslim feelings of alienation from the political establishment and prising Bradford's Muslim voters away from their historic identification with Labour. One of the levers he used to achieve this was to play on Labour's support for military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many - perhaps most - Anglo-Muslims regard this action as an attack on Islam. Of course, we can all agree that the manner in which Galloway played this particular card was entirely cynical - he was a supporter (indeed a friend) of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein and he has been on friendly terms with another Arab mass murderer, Bashar Assad. But to the short-sighted voters of Bradford this clearly signified nothing.
The choice at Bradford West was between a Muslim Labour candidate who could be trusted only to play to Ed Miliband's tune (did Ed's Jewishness also, I wonder, play a part?), and an infidel (Galloway is a Catholic) who could be guaranteed to oppose everything Miliband stood for. A "no-brainer".
As for Galloway's campaign being "divisive and reprehensible," so what? All of politics is divisive and much of it is reprehensible. The smug, second-rate political establishment with which the UK is currently saddled likes to feel that it alone has the right to set the boundaries of political debate. Now it has received a well-deserved kick in the privates. And a good thing, too.
I was about to put the phone down when the colleague who'd had the good sense to contact me bowled the googly I suspected would come down the wicket. "Surely," he pleaded, "as a Jew, you must feel unhappy at Galloway's victory."
He’d have been a fool not to have exploited the Muslim vote
Of course, in one sense, I am. Frankly, I would rather the showman and Arab nationalist had not been granted yet another opportunity to grace the Palace of Westminster with his presence. But an election outcome is an election outcome. And within the cloud that will now move south from the West Riding of Yorkshire to that Palace by the Thames there is - certainly for us Jews - a silver lining.
Galloway's campaign was suffused with pro-Palestinian rhetoric. In a remarkable letter that his Respect Party distributed in mosques throughout the constituency, he declared: "I, George Galloway, came to the side of the people of Palestine in their agony." Whether he did or did not is beside the point, which is that he and his advisers clearly thought this a point worth making. In this sense, Galloway not only played the Muslim card. He played the anti-Israeli card. And won. Not for nothing did he feel compelled to tweet, post-election: "Long live Palestine, free, Arab, dignified."
His presence at Westminster will be more significant than that of Baroness Tonge. She is unelected. Galloway can rightfully claim, from his considerable Muslim electorate, a mandate that encompasses many things, including a primeval hostility to the Jewish state. Don't take my word for this. Trawl through material online - for instance his nasty comments about Israel and Zionism reportedly made during an American radio interview in 2005.
And remember that, behind Galloway, is his party. On its website, Respect currently advertises a "summer university," to be held in Beirut in September, at which "the Palestinian right of return" will be the major theme. This is - of course - a proxy for the destruction of the Jewish state.
So Galloway's sensational wooing of the Muslims of Bradford has cleared the air. And for that I for one am very grateful.