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UK Labour Party shaken by string of resignations over stance on Gaza

October 18, 2023 at 8:57 pm

Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry is interviewed in Liverpool, England on October 11, 2023 [Ian Forsyth/Getty Images]

A number of councillors from the UK’s main opposition Labour Party have resigned in the past days in protest over party leader, Keir Starmer’s support for what he called Israel’s “right” to cut power and water supplies to Palestinians living in Gaza.

Some prominent leading members of the shadow cabinet and other senior party members have made similar remarks in defense of Israel’s latest actions, including Emily Thornberry, the shadow Attorney-General; John Healey, the shadow Defence Minister and David Lammy, the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Prior to announcing her resignation from the Labour Party, Kensington and Chelsea Councillor, Mona Ahmed, told Anadolu that comments made by both the ruling Conservatives and her party “have been deplorable.”

Commenting on Starmer’s response to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Gaza, Ahmed said: “Nobody will forget how Starmer chose to be a cheerleader of war crimes and collective punishment. He could have called for de-escalation but, instead, he contributed to the chorus of voices which enabled the genocide we are now seeing. Arab and Muslim communities will not forget this.”

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Ahmed said all expressions of solidarity and support for Palestinians are being “silenced” and those who are calling out Israel’s human rights abuses have themselves been painted as “Hamas supporting mobs”, pointing at a BBC broadcast in which the presenter labelled demonstrators as Hamas supporters.

As a psychiatrist for the National Health Service, Ahmed said, she cannot remain indifferent to what has happened to a British-Palestinian surgeon, Ghassan Abu-Sitta, who said that British counter-terrorism police “showed up at my house in the UK and harassed my family.” Abu-Sitta regularly joins the British channels to explain the situation he faces in Gaza hospitals.

“They would try to paint a doctor who is reporting from the frontline as a terrorist and sending anti-terror police, all whilst medical personnel in Gaza are themselves being terroriszed by Israeli bombs falling on hospitals is shameful,” Ahmed said.

“I cannot in good conscience continue on in the Labour Party in its current form,” she said, while announcing her resignation.

‘No choice’

Among several Labour councillors who quit the party in the past few days also included Amna Abdullatif, the first Muslim woman on Manchester City Council.

Abdullatif said she had been left with “no choice” other than to resign from Labour, accusing the party leader of “effectively endorsing a war crime”.

Commenting on the party seniors, she said they made “horrifying” comments about Israel having the right to withhold fuel, water, food and electricity from the 2.2 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza.

Shaista Aziz and Amar Latif, two Labour councillors in Oxford, have also quit the party since Sir Keir made the comments about Gaza.

Aziz said politicians must “evoke humanity” and “put an end to collective punishment in Gaza.”

Latif claimed that party leader Starmer had responded in such a way “because he’s afraid of losing votes.”

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Former senior Labour MP, Lynne Jones, who served in the Parliament for two terms, also resigned over what she called Starmer’s support for the “collective punishment” of Palestinians.

“When I joined the Labour Party in 1974, we opposed apartheid in South Africa. Now it is not allowed even to mention that Israel is an apartheid state, a view endorsed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and (Israeli human rights organisation) B’Tselem, as well as those with experience of apartheid in South Africa, like Desmond Tutu,” Jones said.

Lubaba Khalid, a Palestinian photographer who had been a Young Labour BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) officer, said last week that she had handed in her resignation following Starmer’s remarks.

Conservative councillor also resigns

Altaf Patel, a Blackburn councillor with the ruling Conservatives, has also resigned over the government’s refusal to condemn the siege of Gaza.

“The Conservative Party’s apparent disregard for the realities on the ground and its implicit support of policies that amount to collective punishment is nothing short of a grave and horrifying humanitarian crisis that I can no longer ignore. It bears a striking resemblance to a situation that I could be aptly described as genocide,” Patel said in his resignation announcement.

Lammy has refused to answer whether he supports Israel’s orders for people in Gaza to leave.

He has reportedly held urgent talks with council leaders on Monday night amid fears over further pending resignations.

Labour’s General-Secretary, David Evans, reportedly banned local Labour Party banners from Palestinian solidarity marches across the country. Labour MPs have also received a similar note from the Party’s chief whip, urging them to not attend any protests.

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In his opinion piece for The i, Andrew Fisher, the former executive director of policy at the Labour Party, said the hopes of a Labour victory “free from the turmoil and divisions” in the next general elections were shattered with Starmer’s response to the events in Gaza.

“To the Labour leadership, it seems, the Palestinians are unpeople. To the Labour membership, committed to universal human rights and international law, the people of Gaza matter just as much as the people of Israel. As war crimes are committed, and thousands killed, we must not be silenced,” Fisher said.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.