George Galloway Threatens David T with Libel Action

David T of the liberal hawk blog Harry’s Place has announced that he is being sued by George Galloway and an associate named Kevin Ovenden, who are demanding £50,000 each for a comment which David posted to the Socialist Unity blog. The comment does not mention either man, but it does refer to the aid convoy charity Viva Palestina, of which both men are trustees. David suggests that the organisation is a “Hamas fundraising operation” and scoffs that it would “have been an honest way to advertise their activities” if Viva Palestina’s official t-shirts had included a hadith concerning the killing of Jews, since this Hadith appears in the Hamas covenant. He futher jokes that “he could have sworn” that this hadith was what was written on the t-shirts, but that “google translate must have let me down”.

David T’s comment is not one that I would endorse – and not just because it might prove bad for the wallet. It’s clear that the purpose of the Viva Palestina convoys has to provide humanitarian aid, to publicise conditions in Gaza, and to make a protest against the Israeli blockcade. It is not motivated by anti-Jewish animus, it has not carried items that could be used for violence, and it does not seek to persuade Gazans to support Hamas politically. Further, the recent charity commission report on Viva Palestina has ruled that

From the material the Inquiry examined the Commission found no evidence that the Charity’s property was provided to Hamas.

However, we also read in the report that

Mr Galloway also confirmed that he had handed over £25,000 in cash to Hamas and acknowledged that this was not the Charity’s money. In addition he informed the Inquiry that in order to distance the Charity from this act he had been very clear that it was ‘personal money’ that had been handed to Hamas.

That money was handed over to the Prime Minister of Gaza to make a political point. Galloway said at the time that:

Here is the money. This is not charity. This is not charity. This is not charity. This is politics. The government of Palestine is the best people to decide where this money is needed.

Presumably, Galloway is making a distinction of cash to help the government of Gaza perform its civic functions and cash for Hamas as a political entity. But there is no sign of here of any critical distance from Hamas – and Harry’s Place has responded to the libel threat by showing various photo ops of Galloway with his Hamas hosts in Gaza.

The legal threat seems to me to be badly conceived. I’m sure that Galloway and Overden are against the anti-Jewish hadith in Hamas Covenant, but while it’s there anyone who meets a Hamas governmental official risks being tarnished by association. Blame Hamas for that. And of course it’s annoying when a political opponent extrapolates a supposedly logical chain from one’s activities or position to the conclusion that in  some deeper “objective” sense one is in fact supporting something else, but that’s life and to be allowed to do it is essential to public debate.

There are also some other factors that do not impress – where exactly was the figure of £50,000 a piece plucked from? In 2004 Galloway got £150,000 from the Telegraph after a front-page splash about him; the idea that a mocking comment on a blog (which did not seriously claim to have evidence that Viva Palestina supported the anti-Jewish hadith) should be worth a third of that is risible. And why hasn’t their solicitor asked Socialist Unity to remove the offending comment? It should be an easy matter, since the site’s owner is broadly supportive of Galloway. Unless the solicitor does this, Galloway and Overden might be regarded as having “acquiesced” to the publication – I blogged a case last year which was brought by a blog owner against someone who had left a comment on his site, and the case failed on just these grounds.