Keir Starmer faces growing Labour backlash over stance in Israel-Gaza war

Labour leader previously said Israel has the 'right' to cut off power and water from the strip

Keir Starmer's visit to the South Wales Islamic Centre caused some controversy. Photo: Keir Starmer / X
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Keir Starmer is facing a backlash over Labour’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war, as he prepares to meet the party’s Muslim MPs after acknowledging "distress" caused by remarks in which he suggested Israel has the "right" to cut off power and water from the strip.

The Labour leader will be joined by his deputy Angela Rayner on Wednesday afternoon, amid anger over the suggestion, which was made in the wake of the Hamas massacre on October 7.

He subsequently sought to clarify his position, arguing that he did not mean to back the siege on more than two million Palestinians.

More than 150 Muslim Labour councillors have come together to put pressure on the party’s leadership to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday, the Labour Muslim Network said the councillors had signed an “unprecedented letter of unity”, showing the strength of feeling “throughout the nation and in our communities”.

“Every day we fail to call on the government and the international community to push for cessation of hostilities, Gazan children and hundreds of innocent men and women pay the price,” it said.

“No nation, no people or community should have to endure collective punishment and the same should be the case for the Palestinian people. We are also clear that hostages held captive must also be returned to their families safely.”

There are claims Mr Starmer's visit to South Wales Islamic Centre in Cardiff at the weekend made an imam cry.

According to a report by news website Skwawkbox, the imam broke down in tears while telling a journalist he was “not aware of what Keir Starmer had said in support of genocide and war crimes”.

The Labour leader shared images of Sunday’s meeting on X, saying he repeated calls for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and for water and power to be restored.

Inside the Gaza Strip – in pictures

He said he had been "questioned by members" and "made clear it is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicine. International law must be followed".

The centre apologised for the "hurt and confusion" caused by hosting Mr Starmer.

"We wish to stress Keir Starmer's social media post and images gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit," a statement said.

"There was a robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time.

"Members of the community directly challenged Keir on his statements made on the Israeli government's right to cut food, electricity and water to Gaza, warranting war crimes as well as his failure to call for an immediate ceasefire."

Mr Starmer’s office declined to comment on Wednesday’s meeting with the Labour MPs, but party sources confirmed to the PA news agency that an invitation to a meeting after Prime Minister's Questions had been extended to Muslim MPs.

He has reportedly faced calls from the left of the party to expand the meeting to include a wider range of MPs.

Labour front-bencher Darren Jones insisted it was a "routine meeting".

The shadow chief secretary to the Treasury told Times Radio: "It is perfectly normal for MPs, we all represent different constituencies around the country, to want to speak to the leader of our party.

"I'm sure it is the same in other political parties where there are issues that constituents are raising with us.

"And the meeting this afternoon is another example of that.

"And understandably, this is a very sensitive and emotive issue, both for people who have connections and relatives to the Palestinian people as well as the Israeli people, and it is perfectly normal for Keir to sit down and listen to colleagues in the parliamentary party and indeed our councillors and other members from across the country."

So far 37 Labour MPs, and former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, have backed a call for a ceasefire in the region, a position Mr Starmer and the Conservative government are not supporting.

The Labour leader has denied he backed Israel withholding humanitarian aid from Gaza.

Asked on LBC on October 11 if cutting off power and water was an appropriate response, Mr Starmer replied: "I think that Israel does have that right.

"Obviously everything should be done within international law, but I don't want to step away from the core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility for the terrorist acts."

But he has rowed back on the remark amid concerns within the party that it has angered voters, particularly in Muslim communities.

On October 12, he told broadcasters: "I know that LBC clip has been widely shared and caused real concern and distress in some Muslim communities, so let me be clear about what I was saying and what I wasn't saying.

"I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defence, and when I said 'that right' I meant it was 'that right to self-defence'.

"I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines."

Updated: October 25, 2023, 11:58 AM