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Keir Starmer accused of undermining Muslims over iftar cancellation

Petition accuses Labour leader of 'discriminating against Muslims' after he pulled out of event over organiser's boycott of Israeli dates
UK Labour leader Keir Starmer came under fire over his decision to cancel attending a virtual Ramadan fast-breaking event (AFP/File photo)

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has been accused of undermining Muslims by Friends of Al-Aqsa, a UK-based Palestine advocacy NGO, after he was caught up in a Ramadan iftar cancellation scandal.

Starmer pulled out of the Ramadan Tent Project's virtual fast-breaking event last week after he was made aware that its CEO, Omar Salha, supported the boycott of Israeli dates. 

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Chronicle approached Labour about Salha retweeting a Twitter post from Friends of Al-Aqsa which encouraged Muslims to boycott Israeli dates during Ramadan.

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Over 2,000 people have now signed a petition, started by Friends of Al-Aqsa, which criticised the opposition leader for holding Muslims to different "standards". 

It referenced polling carried out by YouGov last month which found that 61 percent of Labour members supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, while only eight percent opposed it. 

"Keir Starmer is happy to engage with these Labour members, yet when a Muslim calls for BDS, he considers this unacceptable," the petition stated. 

"In this selective disengagement, the Labour leader is discriminating against Muslims, which feeds into the systemic Islamophobia that is rife within the Labour Party."

The statement was referring to a report published last year which found that a significant proportion of Muslim supporters of Labour believed the party didn’t take the issue of Islamophobia seriously enough.

'Demonising Muslims'

Ismail Patel, the chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa, told Middle East Eye that the number of signatories indicated that a growing number of people were "fed up with how the [Labour] leadership is demonising Muslims and those who are advocating for Palestinian rights".

"The sentiment the leadership has ostracised the Muslim community is widespread," he added.

Boycotting Israeli dates is a very common practice among many Muslims, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. 

Israel was by far the world's largest exporter of dates in 2020, according to consumer data firm Statista, with over $235m in sales. However, many of the country's dates are planted in the occupied West Bank, particularly in the Jordan Valley. 

The petition comes just days after Middle East Eye revealed that Starmer had failed to respond to a letter sent to him by more than 25 British-Palestinian Labour members in which they raised concerns about internal treatment.