Labour Muslim MP a target for protesters after refusing to vote for Gaza ceasefire

Rushanara Ali hints in statement released after Commons vote that she could quit shadow cabinet

Protesters gather outside the office of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party in London to show their opposition to MP Rushanara Ali. PA
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

A Labour MP who refused to back a Commons vote for a Gaza ceasefire, but hinted in a statement she would be willing to walk away from the shadow cabinet, has become a target for protesters.

A further march took place on Friday, in the constituency of Rushanara Ali, as part of a co-ordinated student protest in seven UK towns.

On Thursday, about 400 students surrounded Ms Ali's Tower Hamlets constituency office over her refusal to vote for the amendment. Ms Ali has previously called for a ceasefire but said she would not vote with the SNP, the party that tabled the amendment.

She said in a statement that the motion would not have led to a ceasefire.

"If my resignation meant the needle would move in the slightest over forcing a ceasefire, my letter would have been written and deposited already," said Ms Ali, who previously resigned over air strikes on Iraq in 2014.

She was one of three Muslim front-benchers to back the party line on Wednesday. “Leaving the shadow government is something I am always willing to do, which is why I completely respect the decisions taken by my fellow MPs today," she said.

"The moment I feel my presence is less positively impactful than my absence, I will do so.”

Another front bench spokesman, Jo Stevens, the Shadow Wales minister say her office in Cardiff sprayed with red paint and posters were put up accusing her of having “blood on her hands”.

“South Wales Police is investigating criminal damage to a property on Albany Road," a police statement about the Cardiff Central MP said. “A number of items have been seized for examination and enquiries are on-going.”

Further protests, promoted on social media as “School Strike for Palestine”, took place on Friday in London, Bristol, Manchester, Harrow, Redbridge, Glasgow and Burton.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said she is “deeply concerned” over the sight of children taking part in pro-Palestinian demonstrations during the school day.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Ms Keegan expressed concern about the protest and warned it should be treated with the “utmost seriousness”.

A number of school walkouts have taken place in recent weeks, with some schoolchildren adding their voices to calls for a ceasefire amid the escalating conflict.

Ms Keegan said: “I’m deeply concerned that some children are attending political protests during the school day – even more so if they’re taking part in, or being exposed to, antisemitic chants.

“This should be treated with the utmost seriousness – missing school for activism is unacceptable.”

Earlier, schoolchildren handed in a petition calling for a ceasefire to representatives at Bristol’s City Hall.

The signatures, many written in felt tip pen, were collected by youngsters who have attended the school strike for Palestine outside over the past three weeks.

Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party and councillor for Clifton Down ward in the city, collected the petition during the event on Friday morning.

Labour rebels made their stand on Wednesday night and have vowed to intensify pressure for an immediate Gaza ceasefire as leader Keir Starmer called on his party to remain “as united as we can” in the face of pressure to support an end to the fighting.

Senior party figures hinted that there would be no purge of the 10 members who defied party whips to vote for the Israel ceasefire resolution in parliament, stressing the priority was, in Mr Starmer's words, “hostages and the innocent civilians and children that are dying in Gaza”.

One of those who left her post was Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence, who took to Twitter to launch a campaign to raise money for medical aid for Gaza on Thursday. She said she would dedicate her time to practical action in the face of the war.

The vote in parliament showed increasing numbers of Labour members ready to follow their conscience, not the party line, on the suffering caused by the war. Sounds of a mass protest outside reinforced the sense of changing ground for Mr Starmer and his leadership team.

Mr Starmer has sought to hold a firm line and show strong leadership ahead of the next general election, in which Labour is expected to win big. He has backed “humanitarian pauses”, which would allow aid to enter into Gaza over a period of a few days.

Outside the Houses of Parliament, thousands had gathered in support of a ceasefire, many of them students and young professionals living in London. Many told of the personal impact of the conflict.

Nisha Bains, a financial lawyer said her “heart was breaking” over the war.

“I feel the government don’t represent our voices, there’s so much support for civilians and innocent people, especially children being killed. I can’t believe it’s a question whether a ceasefire should be called for. I’m praying every day for peace and love,” she said.

Ms Bains, who is a practising Sikh, drew on her own religion’s teachings in search of hope.

“We just celebrated Diwali over the weekend, its all about light over darkness, and I really hope that light does overcome all the darkness at the moment,” she said.

Oussama Al Saqr, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage who studies FinTech at a London university, said a ceasefire was needed.

“I want [MPs] to see that there are a lot of people supporting a ceasefire. I hope the genocide and torture of the people in Gaza can end, even if it's for a short while, until we can find a solution.”

The events of the past month have left him feeling helpless, he said, but he urged people to “read up” on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and be aware of the issues that preceded October 7.

“We’re doing all we can to make a change. It’s heartbreaking, especially for a person of Palestinian descent,” he said.

The first British MP of Palestinian descent, Layla Moran, addressed a separate gathering to reveal how she had lost a family member in Gaza. Speaking before she also voted for an immediate ceasefire, she revealed how the siege is costing lives not only by bombing but through depriving people of the necessities to survive.

The MP for Oxford, whose mother’s family stretches between Gaza and the West Bank, spoke only 30 minutes after hearing of a relative’s death. She described how the family had sought refuge in a church in Gaza city after their house was destroyed and had remained there since the war began.

The continuing siege had contributed to her elderly relative’s ailing health, she said.

“[My family] spent 40 days with barely water and food, just their prayers to sustain them. He died because he could not be transferred to a hospital,” she said, at a vigil for Israelis and Palestinians outside Downing Street.

Ms Moran urged those who attended “not to blame, not to hate, but to dig deep into compassion and find a common humanity”.

National marches in support of Palestine and vigils for those killed and kidnapped in Israel have been taking place weekly since October 7.

Overall, 56 Labour MPs backed the amendment, which failed by 293 to 125 votes after it was brought by the Scottish Nationalist Party.

Humza Yousaf, Scottish First Minister, condemned the failure to call for a ceasefire.

“This was a plea to put humanity before politics by endorsing a ceasefire,” he wrote on Thursday.

“Too many parents have had to bury their children in Gaza. Too many children have become orphaned. Too many have suffered. And for far too long.”

Updated: November 17, 2023, 5:25 PM