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Israel-Palestine: Why Labour and Keir Starmer are haemorrhaging Muslim support

10/27/2023 1:58 PM

Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party have faced fierce backlash over their position on the Israel-Palestine war, leaving many Muslim supporters feeling "gaslighted" and "betrayed."

Starmer's backing of Israel's actions and refusal to demand a ceasefire have alienated many Muslim and Labour supporters.

A new survey puts into numbers the high levels of dissatisfaction amongst the community. The survey of over 30,000 from the Muslim Census suggests a drop of 66% in potential Labour votes.

Almost all the respondents said that their change in voting intention was due to events in Palestine. The survey found that almost all Muslims (98%) have a negative view of how the Labour and Conservative Party have responded to the crisis

Many Muslims have expressed shock at the political parties in the UK for seemingly enabling Israel to act against international law without consequences.

Starmer comments on LBC Radio

Starmer's comments on LBC Radio brought that issue into sharp focus. When asked whether it was appropriate for Israel to lay siege and cut off power and water - which violates international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions - Starmer said, "Israel does have that right."

Starmer faced an immediate backlash. Eight Oxford City Labour councillors resigned in protest, which meant the party lost control of the council.  

Writing in the Guardian, one of the Oxford councillors who resigned from the party, Shaista Aziz, said: "I found this response disturbing because Israel's actions are a form of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. Starmer is a former human rights barrister and must have known this."  

The fallout resulted in a weak attempt by Starmer to clarify his position: "'I was saying Israel had the right to self-defence... I was not saying Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.'  

It did not placate his critics, who accused him of 'gaslighting' Muslims.  

Visit to the Islamic centre

A cynical publicity visit by Starmer to an Islamic centre in South Wales, followed by a controversially worded tweet referencing Hamas hostages, further exacerbated the situation.

The South Wales Islamic Centre apologised for the 'hurt and confusion' caused by hosting the Labour leader and expressed "dismay" over Starmer's social media post.

"We wish to stress Keir Starmer's social media post and images gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit," said the statement from the Islamic Centre.

It added: "There was a robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time. Members of the community directly challenged Keir on his statements made on the Israeli government's right to cut food, electricity and water to Gaza, warranting war crimes as well as his failure to call for an immediate ceasefire."

Labour Muslim MPs put pressure

Around 250 Muslim Labour councillors have written directly to the Labour leader demanding he call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The letter said: "Every day we fail to call on the government and the international community to push for cessation of hostilities, Gazan children and hundreds of innocent men and women pay the price.

"As a party that bases its principles on fairness and justice, we can not sit idly by as Palestinians face collective punishment."  

The Labour leader and his deputy, Angela Rayner, met Muslim politicians on Wednesday afternoon to calm tensions. But the politicians were frustrated that Starmer did not back a ceasefire.  

A few hours after meeting with Muslim MPs, Starmer strengthened his language somewhat towards Israel and said the amount of aid and essential utilities getting into Gaza is 'completely insufficient.'  

But he did not call for a ceasefire. Instead, he mentioned "humanitarian pauses," which many have pointed out is no different from the language used by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Image: X - Keir Starmer

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