Gaza rattles UK’s Labour

Woman with placard reading: Starmer blood on your hands

Labour leader Keir Starmer’s opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza is losing his party support.

Taifun Salci ZUMA Press Wire

In a highly charged and closely watched vote at Britain’s parliament Wednesday, British opposition legislators failed in a bid to change official UK policy on Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza to demand an immediate ceasefire.

Members of Parliament voted on two amendments to last week’s King’s Speech – which traditionally lays out British government policy for the forthcoming parliamentary term.

Both failed by a similar margin. One, from the largest opposition Labour Party, called for longer humanitarian pauses than those currently supported by the governing Conservative Party and which now remain UK government policy.

It lost by 290 to 183 votes.

Another, from the Scottish National Party (SNP), demanded a full and immediate ceasefire.

That lost by 293 to 125. But it saw 56 Labour MPs, or 28 percent of the party’s legislators, defy a party whip to support the SNP amendment.

This included eight front benchers – those who would fill ministerial posts should Labour form a government – who either resigned from their positions or were sacked over their ceasefire position.

It was the SNP’s amendment that was the focus of attention on Wednesday. Outside parliament, thousands of protesters clamored for a ceasefire, reflecting growing public pressure on the government over Gaza.

Huge demonstrations have taken over city centers across the UK every week since 7 October, especially in London, where, on Saturday, hundreds of thousands marched for a ceasefire on Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of World War I.

The timing of that demonstration – the biggest Palestine demonstration to date in the UK – discomfited a Conservative government whose “full solidarity” with Israel includes military support, and is matched only by Washington.

So discomfited was the government’s home secretary, the UK’s equivalent to an interior minister, that she wrote an angry op-ed in the The Times denouncing the ceasefire demonstration as a “hate march” and criticizing London police for showing “bias” toward the pro-Palestine demonstrators.

Gaza trains sights on Labour

The minister, Suella Braverman, was quickly sacked in the aftermath, because she succeeded only in enraging a small angry mob of the intoxicated far right, who duly clashed with police ahead of the main demonstration, which otherwise passed without incident.

Now, it is the UK’s main opposition Labour Party that is being pulled out of shape by its leadership’s support for Israel’s genocidal fervor.

Labour, under Keir Starmer, has failed to distinguish itself from the ruling Conservatives on a number of issues, including Gaza.

From early on after 7 October, Starmer, like Rishi Sunak, the British prime minister, has emphasized Israel’s “right” to defend itself. He has made no distinction between occupying power and occupied people, and he has been adamant that “Labour stands with Israel.”

Except many in his party have refused to listen. On a local level, six Labour councilors quit the party after Wednesday’s vote, bringing the total number of local politicians to quit the party to well over 50 over the past weeks.

And anger with Labour is palpable on social media, where Starmer’s position on Ukraine has been mercilessly exploited to suggest the Labour leader entertains double standards.

With a comfortable lead in the polls ahead of a general election next year, Starmer’s entire campaign strategy appears to be based on not sticking his neck out, trusting that simply not being Conservative is enough to see him over the line.

Thus he has refused to back unions – traditionally Labour’s core support – over pay disputes with the government. He has rowed back almost all of the campaign pledges he ran on when he won the race to lead Labour back in 2020, leaving Labour a more centrist proposition for voters, in a clear replay of the tactics of Tony Blair.

He early made his sympathies for Israel clear, calling himself unreservedly Zionist in an attempt to distance himself from his former boss, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time Palestine activist who got embroiled in an anti-Semitism controversy that undermined his leadership.

Starmer may well feel that his wholesale support for Israel – whatever happens on the ground – is politically savvy. After all, those who object are hardly going to vote for the Conservative Party.

But Labour’s traditional support values principle, not least principles of justice and equality.

And while Labour is likely to win any general election by default against a staggeringly incompetent ruling Conservative Party, there are plenty of people who will not forgive Starmer for failing to take a principled stand on Israel’s open and criminal disregard for life in Gaza and elsewhere in occupied Palestine.


Omar Karmi

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.