In the past week a dozen Labour frontbenchers have defied the agreed party line on the conflict and called for a cease-fire…reports Asian Lite News
Keir Starmer doubled down on his position on the war between Israel and Hamas Tuesday despite open revolt on the opposition Labour Party’s front bench.
In a speech at the Chatham House foreign policy think tank, Starmer faced down calls to demand a cease-fire in Gaza and said this would only “embolden” Hamas militants to launch another attack.
In the past week a dozen Labour frontbenchers have defied the agreed party line on the conflict and called for a cease-fire.
Dozens of Labour MPs, including some shadow Cabinet members, have been privately lobbying Starmer’s office to change its position and warning that the party is losing significant support from the British Muslim community.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and London and Greater Manchester mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham all joined calls for a cease-fire last week.
But Starmer warned on Tuesday that a cease-fire “always freezes any conflict in the state where it currently lies. And, as we speak, that would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and the capabilities to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October 7.”
“Hamas would be emboldened and start preparing for future violence immediately,” he said.
Starmer argued that Labour’s current position of calling for humanitarian “pauses” in the fighting was “the only credible approach.”
He issued a warning to shadow ministers to toe the line, saying that he took collective responsibility “extremely seriously.”
Pressed repeatedly by reporters on why shadow ministers have not been disciplined for straying from the party’s position, Starmer said he was “sensitively engaging” with them and that he needed to respond proportionately.
The Labour leader said Israel must act within international law. He stressed the need for “the urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering” and called for “crystal clear guarantees” that people who flee their homes in Gaza will be allowed to return quickly.
He argued that the supply of water, medicines, electricity and fuel to citizens in Gaza “cannot be blocked by Israel.”
But Starmer declined to say whether Israel is currently adhering to international law and said this matter would be “adjudicated in due course.”
Around two dozen people gathered outside Chatham House on Tuesday morning to protest Labour’s position and urge Starmer to back a cease-fire. Among them was James Schneider, who was press secretary to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
A spokesperson for the left-wing Momentum campaign group said Starmer’s “support for more war, more bombing and more Palestinian deaths is wholly out of touch with his own party and the public at large, who overwhelmingly back an immediate ceasefire.”
But Mike Katz, national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate of the party, hailed what he called “an important intervention” from Starmer which had shown “clear leadership.”
“MPs and others should reflect on how best to achieve the desired outcome in Gaza and how they can ease community tensions on our streets, and unite behind his position,” Katz added.
Starmer’s speech comes after Corbynite MP Andy McDonald was suspended from the Labour Party whip Monday for comments made at a pro-Palestinian protest.
McDonald had told the crowd: “We won’t rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.” The phrase “between the river and the sea” has been linked to calls for the destruction of Israel.
A Labour spokesperson said the comments were “deeply offensive, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism which has left Jewish people fearful for their safety.”
Last week, Starmer and Rayner met more than a dozen Muslim politicians who said the Labour leader’s positioning on the Israel-Hamas conflict was causing distress to many in the party.
One person present said Starmer acknowledged the amount of “work to be done” to win back the trust of Muslim voters. They added that they thought the leadership would continue to adapt their position to fall in line with international leaders, depending on how severe the conflict became.
When asked whether Labour was taking Muslim votes for granted, Kyle said: “We’re not thinking how do we win votes or what votes we will lose at a time when there is war and conflict unfolding … Everybody has the legitimate right in a democratic society as ours … What Hamas did was wrong and we stand on the side of Israel within international law to defend itself.”