Labour suspends MP after speech at pro-Palestinian rally

McDonald’s suspension follows days of internal Labour tensions over the party’s position on the Israel-Gaza war…reports Asian Lite News

Andy McDonald has been suspended as a Labour MP, after the party said he had made “deeply offensive” comments relating to the Israel-Gaza war.

The MP for Middlesbrough used the phrase “between the river and the sea” in a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally.

Critics of a chant which contains the phrase argue it implicitly calls for the destruction of Israel. But McDonald said his words were intended as “a heartfelt plea for an end to the killings” in the region. He will now sit as an independent MP, pending an investigation.

In his speech at a demonstration on Saturday, McDonald, a former shadow minister under Jeremy Corbyn, said: “We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.”

The phrase “from the river to the sea” refers to the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean, and features in a chant which has been heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged police chiefs to consider interpreting the chant as an “expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world”. Israel and most Jewish groups agree.

This interpretation is disputed by some pro-Palestinian activists who say that most people chanting it are calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, not the destruction of Israel itself.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman has said the phrase is “a deeply offensive chant to many.” McDonald said he was “saddened” by his suspension and believed it would be overturned after he explained his views to the party’s investigation.

In a statement, he said there had been “a number of misrepresentations of my words in the media”, which had “furthered baseless and extremely harmful accusations against me”.

He added that his words “should not be construed in any other way than they were intended, namely as a heartfelt plea for an end to the killings in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank, and for all peoples in the region to live in freedom without the threat of violence”.

A Labour spokesperson said McDonald’s comments at the weekend “were deeply offensive, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism which has left Jewish people fearful for their safety”.

“The chief whip has suspended the Labour whip from Andy McDonald, pending an investigation,” the spokesperson said. Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the suspension was “unjust” and “absolutely nonsensical”.

“He turned a slogan some are concerned about into a peace plea,” McDonnell added. Momentum, a left-wing Labour campaign group, branded McDonald’s suspension “an appalling and opportunistic attempt from the Starmer leadership to silence those speaking out in solidarity with Palestine”.

The Labour Muslim Network described the suspension as “obscene and deeply offensive”. “The fundamental right to live in peace, with liberty and self determination is one which should be applied to all peoples,” the group said in a statement.

“The only conclusion that can be drawn is that those who have made this decision do not see Palestinian and Muslim life as deserving of this fundamental principle.”

McDonald’s suspension follows days of internal Labour tensions over the party’s position on the Israel-Gaza war.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has not called for a ceasefire, instead backing humanitarian pauses to help aid reach Gaza. In stopping short of backing a full ceasefire, the Labour leader is aligned with the UK government, as well as the US and EU.

But dozens of Labour councillors, and senior figures including mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, and some frontbenchers, have called for a formal ceasefire. The Conservatives have had their own party discipline issues over the Israel-Gaza war, with a ministerial aide earlier being sacked from his government role after calling for a ceasefire.

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