LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 09: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer leaves his home ahead of the weekly PMQ session on February 09, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
A FORMER Labour councillor has told Eastern Eye he decided to quit the party over leader Sir Keir Starmer’s “grotesque” comments over the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
Gaza-based Hamas fighters broke through Israel’s heavily fortified border on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Israel responded by ordering a “complete siege”, of Gaza, cutting off food, electricity, fuel and water supplies.
Starmer told LBC last Wednesday (11) that Israel “does have that right” to withhold power and water from Palestinian civilians, but added that “everything should be done within international law”.
A group of independent United Nations experts last Thursday (12) condemned violence against civilians in Israel and deplored the “collective punishment” of reprisal strikes against Gaza, adding it was “absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime”.
Oxford City councillor, Amar Latif, told Eastern Eye that Sir Keir, as a former humanitarian lawyer, will know that Israel’s actions are a “clear contravention” of the Geneva Convention.
“I felt deeply disappointed and alarmed that the Labour Party might take a position where they’re trying to justify collective punishment,” Latif said.
“Like all decent-minded people, we are devastated by the atrocities carried out by Hamas in Israel. But we don’t feel that collective punishment is justified and that seems to be the view of the national Labour leadership.
“We are appalled by the words of Keir Starmer,” he said.
Several Labour members have resigned over Sir Keir’s comments, including Latif’s fellow Labour councillor for Oxford City, Shaista Aziz, Stroud councillor Jessie Hoskin and Amna Abdullatif, the first Arab Muslim woman elected to Manchester city council.
Lubaba Khalid, a Palestinian woman who has family members in Gaza, resigned from her role as Young Labour BAME officer, saying she was “absolutely appalled” by Sir Keir’s comments and felt the Labour Party is “no longer a safe space for Palestinians and Muslims”.
Latif said he tried to get clarification over the Labour leader’s comments from local and national party leadership, but got no response.
“We had to take the difficult decision to resign because we didn’t feel that those values and principles represented our own values and principles over the conflict,” said Latif, who works as a GP in Oxford.
“My whole working life is committed to serving people and helping to preserve life. That’s why these sorts of comments have been particularly disappointing and hurtful, because it makes you think, how can we value human life at such a low cost? There’s no value on human life if you make statements like that.
“As a GP how can I have a working life where I’m trying to preserve life and here’s a Labour leader making such grotesque statements.
“This is not a policy issue. This is actually fundamental principles and if the leader of the party is coming out with these sorts of statements, it really makes you quite concerned.
“I just felt I couldn’t justify remaining in the party with a leader who has those principles.”
Latif said Sir Keir’s words are a reflection of politics in the UK where politicians such as home secretary Suella Braverman have been criticised for using inflammatory language in relation to immigration. “This is gutter politics,” he said. “It’s almost a race to the bottom in regards to who can outdo each other in terms of their language.
“That’s why we’re calling on all political parties to start using more humane language with regards to protecting innocent life and recognising that where people are born or where people live shouldn’t determine their fate.
“People in Israel have a right to live in peace and innocent civilians should not be murdered. And the same is true of those people in Gaza, they have a right to live in peace as well.
“The UN has been quite clear that there’s a human catastrophe unfolding in Gaza and it’s difficult to see people not standing up for what’s right.”
In his previous role as a human rights lawyer, the Labour leader conducted cases in a wide range of international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. He is a former head of the crown prosecution service for England and Wales and was knighted in 2014 for his services to criminal justice.
Latif said Sir Keir has gone “against character” with his comments on the Israel-Gaza conflict with a general election due next year.
“I suspect there’s an element of thinking about a forthcoming general election and considering what the best position from a political viewpoint might be, which is disappointing,” he said. “When it comes to something like the Israel-Gaza situation, the important thing is to stand up for what’s right. If he’s not able to do that as an opposition leader, it makes it difficult to understand what his position might be were he to be prime minister. I think it calls into question his judgment, I’m afraid.”
Latif added that he was frustrated there was no response from Sir Keir or senior Labour leaders over the resignation of some party’ members over the issue.
“There’s some reports now that Labour forces are referring to those of us who have resigned as ‘fleas’. I would say again this is language that is not consistent with the humanitarian values of the Labour Party and that’s a real concern,” said Latif.
“There is a req u i r e m e n t for an urgent clarification of Keir Starmer’s comments. It can’t be that the Labour Party condones the killing of innocent civilians as a form of collective punishment, that just can’t be acceptable.”
On Monday (16), Starmer tried to calm the storm his words had created by insisting there needed to be humanitarian access into Gaza.
“Israel has the right to bring her people home, to defend herself, to keep its people safe, and while Hamas has the capacity to carry out attacks on Israeli territory there can be no safety,” he said in parliament.
“Israel’s defence must be conducted in accordance with international law. Civilians must not be targeted. Innocent lives must be protected. There must be humanitarian corridors.
“There must be humanitarian access, including food, water, electricity and medicines so that hospitals can keep people alive and so that innocent people do not needlessly die, and there must be proper protection for all those who work selflessly so aid can be delivered to victims.