Keir Starmer’s condemnation of ‘terror’ in Gaza is a step forward: but just the beginning

Starmer’s language at the Concordia event which I attended as part of the organising team represents a seismic shift in the Labour Party’s approach both to the Middle East conflict

Keir Starmer

Dr Nafeez Ahmed (@nafeezahmed) is Director of the System Shift Lab and creator of the Age of Transformation, a newsletter on systems-thinking for the ‘global phase shift’.

The leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer told an audience in London last week that he condemned the “fear and terror” experienced by starving Muslims in Gaza in what was his strongest language yet about the conflict.

Speaking at an Iftar in London last Thursday hosted by the Concordia Forum, a trans-Atlantic network of Muslim leaders, Keir Starmer explicitly criticised Israel’s policy of forced starvation in Gaza, recognising “those around the world whose fast is not through choice, but through force.” He added:

“We know there are Muslims in Gaza who will be mourning rather than enjoying this month. Families who will not have food around the table this evening. The sound of fear and terror rather than laughter and singing. Empty spaces around the table where their loved ones once sat.” 

Starmer also demanded a total cessation of violence in Gaza, including an immediate ceasefire and a “permanent end to the fighting.” In addition to demanding that Israeli hostages are returned to their families, he also urged “an end to the killing of innocent Palestinians. No equivocation – that must happen now.”

Keir Starmer, who is widely expected to become the next prime minister of the UK, also said that the planned Israeli military incursion into Rafah must be blocked, while international aid going into Gaza is resumed:

“It is absolutely imperative now that humanitarian aid gets into Gaza rapidly, without disruption or blockade. And any offensive into Rafah cannot be allowed to happen.” 

Starmer also directly addressed the rising trend in anti-Muslim hatred. Paying tribute to the British Muslim community, he articulated the Labour Party’s zero-tolerance commitment: “I know many people will also be concerned about the sickening rise in Islamophobia we have seen in our country. So let me be clear. A Labour government will never turn a blind eye to that prejudice.” 

Starmer emphasised British Muslims’ positive contributions to UK society and the economy, pointing out that “for generations, Muslims have made Britain a better place. A massive contribution to our social fabric: from our NHS to schools, charities to business.”

Commenting on the importance of Ramadan, the Labour leader gave thanks for “the solidarity, community and clarity” of this holy month and for the “generosity of Muslims during Ramadan” which “reminds me of the hugely powerful teachings that the Muslim community invites the world to see during this special time.” 

Starmer’s language at the Concordia event which I attended as part of the organising team represents a seismic shift in the Labour Party’s approach both to the Middle East conflict and to questions around anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain.

Many will see this shift as too little, too late. They are right. Over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, while 2.2 million Gazans are facing severe food shortages with over a million experiencing “catastrophic hunger”.

Keir Starmer’s statements, however, demonstrate that Israel has now become increasingly isolated from some of its closest international allies, with the political spectrum across the UK attempting to disassociate from Israel’s current policy.

With a Labour government seen as all but inevitable this year by most political commentators, the challenge for civil society and British Muslim communities is simple. Comprehensive disengagement from Labour, as some activist campaigns within parts of the Muslim communities have demanded, will not help Palestinians but instead guarantee the total retraction of Muslim voters from any semblance of meaningful UK political influence. That would leave a vacuum in government which emboldens potentially dangerous and destructive policies.

The only viable alternative, in my view, is for British Muslim communities to ensure through strategic lines of engagement that the leaders of the incoming government are incentivised to listen to British public opinion, which overwhelmingly is supportive of an end to Israeli’s onslaught in Gaza, as well as the restoration of Palestinian rights and statehood based on international law.

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