Labour leader Kier Starmer has come under sharp criticism for withdrawing from a virtual Ramadan interfaith event after a pro-Israel lobby group alerted him to the organiser's support for the boycott of Israeli dates produced in territories occupied by the Zionist state.
Starmer had been asked to attend the virtual fast-breaking meal, hosted by the Ramadan Tent Project on Wednesday. Since its founding in 2013, the group has organised some of the UK's largest annual community events during Ramadan and in one year hosted over 100,000 people from all backgrounds in over ten cities and four continents.
Despite agreeing to take part, Starmer pulled out after the Board of Deputies (BoD), a pro-Israel lobby group affiliated to the World Jewish Congress (WJC), alerted him to the organisers' previous comments on Twitter including a tweet supporting the boycott of Israeli produced dates.
On Tuesday, the Board's Tal Ofer tweeted he was "glad to see that after I raised this issue Keir Starmer withdrew his participation from the event."
Jewish News reported that Labour sources confirmed the Leaders Office took on board concerns from the Board raised about the organisers.
The decision has been met with condemnation. The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) said that it was "disappointed" to hear that the Labour leader had pulled out "due to the host's support for boycotting dates grown in Israeli settlements". The group pointed out that goods produced by Israel in illegal settlements contravene international law. A YouGov poll which showed that 61 per cent of Labour members supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was also cited by MAB in its statement.
People also took to Twitter to denounce the Labour leader. "Hey
@Keir_Starmer Once good people – probably you then – refused to buy oranges from apartheid South Africa Now some good people refuse to buy dates from apartheid Israel
To suggest that people not buying Israeli dates are "antisemitic" is outrageous, insulting, and plain wrong," said one critic.
In June the BoD denounced the British Labour Party as "divisive" following calls by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, on the UK to ban the import of goods from illegal settlements in the West Bank if the Israeli government presses ahead with its plan to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank.
Starmer's no show follows another important victory by the Israeli lobby earlier this month when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made public Britain's opposition to the International Criminal Courts (ICC) investigation into war crimes committed by Israel. His intervention is said to have been made at the behest of the Israeli lobby group the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).
CFI was blasted for "the most disgusting interference" in British politics by Former Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan. He said that CFI had injected a "Netanyahu-type view of Israeli politics into our foreign policy," referring to Israel's right-wing prime minister. He claimed that it had applied pressure on former UK PM Theresa May's government to prevent him becoming Middle East minister at the Foreign Office.