“Activists in solidarity with the Palestinian people are promoting widespread local actions tomorrow, Saturday 4th November. In London, there will be a rally in Trafalgar Square at 2.30pm.”
Labour Hub give the rundown on the latest opposition to Keir Starmer’s repsonse to the crisis in Gaza.
Two Labour council leaders – of Burnley and Pendle councils – have called on Keir Starmer to resign as Leader. In a statement, they ask him to “resign to allow someone to lead our party who has compassion and speaks out against injustice and indiscriminate killing of innocent human beings.”
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar and Asjad Mahmood, leader of Pendle Borough Council, said they were making the call on behalf of outraged Labour councillors in their areas. The two said Starmer had “sadly not stood up for Labour values”.
The calls came after Sobia Malik, who represents Burnley Central East on Lancashire County Councillor, announced her resignation from the Labour Party.
Meanwhile Sheffield Labour Councillors have voted publicly at Council to demand an immediate ceasefire, a cessation of all arms sales and military aid to Israel, to condemn the government’s abstention at the United Nations against a humanitarian truce and to join Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.
This is believed to be the first time Labour councillors have voted for a motion calling for a ceasefire in a public meeting since the Hamas attacks on 7th October. Councillors suggested to the leadership of the Labour council group that many could resign their positions if Labour did not vote to back the motion.
The vote came as over 300 Labour Councillors nationwide supported a ceasefire. But disaffection with the Starmer line runs far deeper: a new poll suggests that just a third of Labour councillors are satisfied with the leadership’s position on Israel-Palestine and 43% are dissatisfied. Councillors and MPs are getting more emails abut the issue than anything else in recent memory.
The Councillors calling for a ceasefire join the UN Secretary-General, the Irish and Spanish governments, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, the Financial Times, 76% of the British public and two thirds of the US public.
After Keir Starmer’s Chatham House speech rejecting a ceasefire earlier this week, Alastair Russell, Head of Public Affairs at the usually cautious Save the Children UK, said: “In his speech today Keir Starmer once again referred to meeting he had with aid agencies… Every single agency referred to the urgent need for a ceasefire. It was the united position of all the organisations, as it is also of UNICEF, UNRWA, and the UN Secretary-General that a ceasefire is essential to saving lives and allowing aid to flow. It is deeply disappointing that Keir Starmer has continued to rebuff this vital humanitarian call. Aid cannot be delivered under fire, and the catastrophic conditions facing 2.3 million Palestinian civilians, half of whom are children, cannot be addressed merely by a pause.”
Within the Jewish community, over 150 members of Liberal and Reform Judaism have written to the CEOs of Progressive Judaism calling on the movement to support a ceasefire.
The Guardian also gave implicit backing to a ceasefire in an editorial responding to Starmer’s speech: “Sir Keir says now is not the time for a ceasefire between combatants. If not now, one has to ask, then when? Israel’s bombing has turned Gaza into a graveyard for thousands – many of them children – and a living hell for everyone else.” It continued: “Hamas should release its hostages. But this would need a ceasefire and time for an exchange mediated by international actors.”
But Guardian columnist leadership loyalist Polly Toynbee was more bullish. In an op-ed entitled “Labour calling for a ceasefire would achieve nothing. So why should it tear itself apart over this?”, she wrote, “breaking ranks with all Britain’s allies would be frivolous for the brief gain of posturing for something unachievable.” She concludes: “What an irony if Labour damages its election chances by falling apart over something an opposition can’t influence.”
Many readers will be repelled by Toynbee’s subordination of the human rights of an entire people to a UK political party’s electoral prospects. But, more fundamentally, she is quite wrong in dismissing the Leader of the Opposition’s potential influence. When Labour leader Ed Miliband, under grassroots pressure, withdrew support for Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for military action against Syria in 2013, it not only stopped British involvement in the proposed attack – it scuppered the whole intervention. Without UK support, the Obama Administration was reluctant to take unilateral action against Syria and its military attack was shelved. Ten years after the Iraq debacle, it was a victory for all those who believe that war, bombing and killing civilians are not the answer.
With Israel receiving $3.8bn of military aid alone every year from the United States, it is clear that the US Administration today is in a strong position to exert influence over the Netanyahu government. With an elite bipartisan consensus in Britain, President Biden is unlikely to feel any pressure from these shores. If Starmer were to break with this anti-humanitarian consensus, the embattled Sunak government would be even more isolated in its indefensible stance.
Pressure on Starmer continues to mount. There has also been more opposition voiced from within Labour’s frontbench team. Tan Dhesi, Shadow Exchequer Secretary and Labour MP for Slough, became the sixteenth Labour frontbencher to call for a ceasefire and Shadow Skills Minister Seema Malhotra, Labour MP for Feltham & Heston, became the seventeenth.
The issue of Palestine could be central to an upcoming Labour selection contest. Medical Aid for Palestinians chief executive Melanie Ward has joined the selection race in Beckenham and Penge in southeast London, a new seat Labour hope to win at the next general election.
Activists in solidarity with the Palestinian people are promoting widespread local actions tomorrow, Saturday 4th November. In London, there will be a rally in Trafalgar Square at 2.30pm.