Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt speech by Labour's David Lammy

Returning to the stage to resume his speech, the shadow foreign secretary said 'I want change through power, not through protest'

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A group of pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted a speech by the Labour Party's David Lammy on Saturday as he called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Addressing a Fabian Society conference on foreign policy, flag-waving demonstrators mounted the stage and disrupted Labour’s shadow foreign secretary by shouting: “When will you condemn the genocide? How many more children need to die?”

More people in the audience stood up to launch verbal attacks on the party’s stance on the Middle East conflict as security staff escorted the protesters away.

Once Mr Lammy returned after being temporarily rushed backstage, he joked: “I was born in Tottenham, don’t worry.”

Amid repeated heckling, the Labour front-bencher told the audience in London’s Guildhall: “We all want to see a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza.

“I want change through power, not through protest.”

The Free Palestine Coalition said some of its activists infiltrated the think tank’s gathering to “call out” the politician’s position on Gaza.

“As a former lawyer, Lammy should know better than to falsely claim that an occupying power has the right to ‘defend itself’ against a territory it occupies,” the network of grass roots groups said in a statement.

“It is difficult to see how Lammy is upholding any commitment to human rights or international law as we enter into the 106th day of Israel’s unrelenting assault on Gaza.”

Israel-Gaza war protests – in pictures

In his speech, Mr Lammy went on to express support for a Palestinian state when the war ends and branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of the plans morally and practically “wrong”.

“The peaceful quest for a Palestinian state is a just cause and the only path to guarantee a just and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

“The Israeli government must immediately change their approach. From the pain and despair, new will and a new political process must emerge to make two states a reality.”

Mr Lammy also said a Labour government would start urgent diplomatic talks on the creation of a new International Contact Group to take over from the defunct Quartet – the UN, US, EU and Russia – to co-ordinate with western and Arab partners over peace in the region.

Labour will revive “preventative diplomacy”, he said, adding: “A decade of diplomatic indifference has enabled the enemies of peace, security, and two states.”

Earlier, the senior Labour MP told the BBC that Mr Netanyahu’s opposition to a state for the Palestinians would mean “occupation and siege continues” in Gaza, where the Palestinian death toll is approaching 25,000, according to local health authorities.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the offensive in Gaza for many months despite mounting pressure on Israel to rein in its military action as the scale of death and destruction intensifies.

In a press conference earlier this week, he said he opposed US calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as part of any post-war plan.

Mr Lammy told the Today programme: “I think Netanyahu’s words were unacceptable.

“Of course, the Palestinian people deserve a state and if they don’t, the consequence of that is either one state in which Benjamin Netanyahu would have to explain how Palestinians and Israelis live side-by-side with equal rights, or no state, in which what he’s really saying is occupation and siege continues.”

The Labour front-bencher was echoing Sir Keir Starmer, who hardened his tone towards the Israeli prime minister by branding his position over a future Palestinian state as “unacceptable”.

The Labour leader has faced divisions in his party over the war and was criticised for refusing to back a ceasefire in favour of calling for humanitarian pauses earlier in the conflict.

He supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” against Hamas in Gaza, but has more recently strengthened his position and called for a sustainable ceasefire.

He told talkSport on Saturday a sustainable ceasefire is needed to “open up a political route to a solution”.

Updated: January 20, 2024, 4:58 PM