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Israel-Palestine war: Labour councillors quit after Keir Starmer comments

The move comes after Labour Party leader said Israel had a right to withhold food and water from Palestinians besieged in Gaza.
Keir Starmer has faced criticism from within the party for his comments on the Israel-Palestine war (AFP)

A growing number of Labour Party councillors have resigned in protest at comments made by the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, for what he described as Israel's "right" to cut power and water supplies to Palestinians living in Gaza.

Several leading members of the shadow cabinet have made similar remarks in defence of Israel's actions since 7 October, including shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry and shadow defence minister John Healey.

Oxford City councillor Shaista Aziz announced her resignation on X (formerly Twitter) on 13 October. A former international aid worker, she has worked in the occupied West Bank, Israel, and refugee camps in Gaza.

“The Labour Party leader’s stance on not being able to condemn collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza was the final red line for me,” Aziz told MEE.

In an interview with British broadcaster LBC last week, Starmer was asked whether Israel’s siege and severance of water and electricity supplies to Gaza, where a week of Israeli air strikes have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians, was a proportionate response after unprecedented attacks in southern Israel, led by Hamas, killed more than 1,400 people.

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Starmer, a former human rights lawyer who is tipped to be the UK's next prime minister, said that while everything had to be done within international law, "I don't want to step away from the core principles that Israel has the right to defend herself."

Amar Latif, a Labour councillor who sat with Aziz on Oxford City Council, resigned at the same time, saying he was “deeply disappointed” and “alarmed” at Starmer’s comments which Latif said appeared to justify the use of collective punishment in contravention of international law.

“We sought urgent clarification from local and national leadership within the Labour Party, but unfortunately none was forthcoming and so I felt compelled to resign from the Labour Party,” Latif told MEE. 

Former Labour councillors Shaista Aziz (left) and Dr. Amar Latif (right) will now serve as independent councillors
Former Labour councillors Shaista Aziz (left) and Amar Latif (right) will now serve as independent councillors (Oxford Labour)

“As a working GP, I am deeply distressed by the loss of all innocent lives in both Palestine and Israel. However, it cannot be right that there is collective punishment in direct contravention of international law, and it is incumbent on all leaders at a local, national and international level to speak out against this.”

Among other Labour councillors who have resigned are Jessie Hoskin, a Labour councillor for the Cainscross ward on Stroud District Council. 

“I was elected because I believe in human dignity for everyone without exception. The Labour Party no longer reflects those views,” said Hoskin, a Labour member for eight years, and councillor for two. “Keir Starmer was unable to condemn the collective punishment of two million civilians, and has not apologised since.  

“We need an immediate ceasefire, and an end to the blockade of Gaza,” said Hoskin, who now sits as an independent.

“We need to be looking at solutions that will protect Palestinian and Israeli lives, uphold international law and push towards a horizon where everyone is safe.”

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In a statement on 13 October, Oxford City Council leader Susan Brown said she was "saddened" by Aziz and Latif's decision to leave the Labour Party, adding that Israel had a right to defend itself. 

“Labour fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself from the indefensible actions of Hamas, to rescue hostages and protect civilians in line with international law,” Brown said. “We must distinguish Hamas terrorists from the Palestinian people. There must be humanitarian access to Gaza, for food, water, medicines and electricity.”

Labour Party divided

But Starmer’s comments have exposed a fracture within the Labour Party. 

An anonymous source close to the Labour Party told MEE that the leadership had arranged an urgent meeting on Monday with council leaders, amid fears of more protest resignations at Starmer’s remarks. 

Aziz said that Labour, which many believe will be the biggest parliamentary party after the next election, had “lost its moral authority”. 

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“Labour is a government in waiting. If it is able to say such irresponsible things, denying international law, and ignoring international law while they’re in opposition, what are they going to do when they come into government? To me there was no option."

The Labour Party did not respond to MEE’s request for comment. 

Aside from Starmer, several other Labour politicians have voiced unequivocal support for Israeli air strikes on the besieged Gaza Strip and failed to condemn the assault as a breach of international law.

Emily Thornberry, also a human rights lawyer and Labour's legal spokesperson, backed Israel's decision to cut off essential supplies to Gaza in a BBC interview, saying Israel had "an absolute right to defend itself", while Healey, speaking on Monday, said: "Britain is united in supporting Israel's right to defend itself, to rescue its hostages and to go after Hamas and to take out its military equipment.” 

He added that “we’re worried about the humanitarian consequences of the next stage of this conflict” but did not call for a ceasefire.

After Hamas launched its attacks in Israel last week, the shadow foreign secretary David Lammy was criticised after he mentioned nothing about Palestinians, instead stating that Labour "stands with the people of Israel" and "Israel has a right to self-defence against terrorism".

In a speech to the Labour Friends of Palestine reception at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool last week, Lammy also said:  “Every civilian death – Israeli or Palestinian - is a tragedy, and builds new barriers to a lasting peace, and that humanitarian access and supplies to Gaza were necessary.  

Thornberry repeatedly refused to answer whether the actions of the Israeli government were against international law during a BBC interview with Victoria Derbyshire.

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