Sir Keir Starmer was under pressure to kick out rebel MPs last night as Labour’s divisions over the war in Israel and Gaza deepened.
Hard-Left backbencher Andy McDonald was lambasted after he used the ‘between the river and the sea’ chant during a rally at the weekend.
He said: ‘We will not rest until we have justice, until all people – Israelis and Palestinians – between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty.’
But Labour’s former shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended Mr McDonald’s language.
Sir Keir Starmer has come under pressure as Labour divisions over Gaza have deepened
Hard-Left backbencher Andy McDonald was lambasted after he used the ‘between the river and the sea’ chant at a pro-Palestinian rally over the weekend
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, has previously said that the chant ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free’ has become ‘a staple of anti-Semitic discourse’
He said claims it was anti-Semitic were a ‘complete misinterpretation’.
He told Times Radio: ‘When that phrase was generated, it was actually a phrase about how people can live together. But there has to be justice for the Palestinians in that settlement.’
Last night Tory MPs urged Sir Keir to respond to his MPs’ comments.
Conservative former Cabinet minister Simon Clarke said: ‘We all know the connotations of the phrase ‘between the river and the sea’.
‘Andy McDonald knows exactly what he is doing by saying ‘Israelis and Palestinians’. He’s tiptoeing up to the line, and daring Labour to respond. Keir Starmer should.’
And Tory MP Robert Largan accused Mr McDonnell of ‘deliberate trolling the Jewish community’.
‘He is openly daring Starmer to remove the Whip,’ he added.
A Conservative spokesman said: ‘Just a few weeks ago Sir Keir said Labour was no longer the party of protest.
‘This week his own front bench is in open rebellion, the man he once wanted to be Chancellor is calling for negotiations with Hamas, and one of his ex-Shadow Cabinet Ministers is accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
‘If Starmer can’t keep his own party in order, how can he be trusted to run the country?’
It has emerged that shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood is privately unhappy with the party’s position on Gaza
Figures including Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Anas Sarwar have defying Sir Keir’s message and called for a ceasefire in Gaza
Peter Kyle, the shadow science secretary, suggested Labour would not sack shadow ministers rebelling over the party’s position on the issue
Labour has been tearing itself apart over its stance on the conflict, with leading figures including Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Anas Sarwar defying Sir Keir’s message and called for a ceasefire.
Yesterday it emerged that shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood was privately unhappy with the party’s position – becoming the first member of the shadow cabinet to break ranks.
She is said to be calling for the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza to cease and has made her position clear internally.
And in a letter to her Birmingham Ladywood constituents, Ms Mahmood suggested Israel may be guilty of ‘collective punishment’ of civilians in Gaza, the Telegraph reported.
Local councillors across England have resigned from Labour to sit as independents amid the rift with the leadership’s position.
On Sunday, 35 councillors in the borough of Brent, north-west London, signed a statement pressing for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Yesterday Peter Kyle, the shadow science secretary, suggested Labour would not sack shadow ministers rebelling over the party’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Mr Kyle told the BBC: ‘Well look, what we are going to do, I suspect, is continue engaging with them.’
Asked about the debate within Labour, he said: ‘I think the fact that we have a vigorous debate within our party, as we are doing as a country, and as we are doing actually as a globe right now, reflects a strength, because we have a leader that has channelled that and turned it into a policy that is in step with all of our international partners.’