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STEPHEN POLLARD: The Labour row over Israel poses a test for Keir Starmer that will show us just what kind of Prime Minister he would be


To understand the importance of Sir Keir Starmer‘s support for Israel’s right to defend itself from terror, consider where we might be if his predecessor had still been Labour leader.

To this day, Jeremy Corbyn has found it impossible to bring himself to give a full and unambiguous denunciation of the massacre of Jews on October 7, the worst since the Holocaust.

This comes as no great surprise because he once notoriously described Hamas, the terrorist organisation responsible for the atrocity, as his ‘friends’.

But things are very different now at the top of the Labour Party. Sir Keir has been steadfast in arguing that Israel has a right to defend itself.

But only at the top. The crisis that is now engulfing him as a result of his support for Israel exposes just how superficial much of his cleaning up of the party has been.

For many Labour members, the very word ‘Israel’ is enough to send them into paroxysms of irrational hatred. And while Corbyn may be gone, most of those who elected him and supported him as leader are still members – and are still pushing the same poisonous views.

To understand the importance of Sir Keir Starmer ’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself from terror, consider where we might be if his predecessor had still been Labour leader

To understand the importance of Sir Keir Starmer ‘s support for Israel’s right to defend itself from terror, consider where we might be if his predecessor had still been Labour leader

To this day, Jeremy Corbyn has found it impossible to bring himself to give a full and unambiguous denunciation of the massacre of Jews on October 7, the worst since the Holocaust

To this day, Jeremy Corbyn has found it impossible to bring himself to give a full and unambiguous denunciation of the massacre of Jews on October 7, the worst since the Holocaust

It’s ironic that Sir Keir’s entirely correct stance over Islamist terrorism – which any decent person would surely condemn – is responsible for the worst crisis he has faced as Labour leader, with MPs, councillors and party members – and reportedly some members of the shadow cabinet – incandescent with anger that he is refusing to back down over his support for Israel’s action against Hamas. 

One Labour councillor, Shaista Aziz, yesterday attacked Sir Keir for ‘a poorly phrased tweet that referenced Hamas’s hostages’. I had to read her words twice to comprehend that yes, she really was criticising the Labour leader for calling for the release of the hostages. Meanwhile, more than 150 Muslim councillors are reported to have written to the Labour leader demanding he calls for an immediate ceasefire. Sir Keir has pointedly and rightly refused to back such calls, knowing that they mean giving Hamas the freedom to resume their activities.

At yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour’s shadow equalities minister, Yasmin Qureshi, opposed this stance by demanding a ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ in Gaza, saying people were subject to ‘collective punishment’ for ‘crimes they did not commit’.

Some 23 councillors have already resigned from Labour in protest at Starmer’s position and in Oxford – where six councillors resigned – the party has lost its majority on the council.

Every resignation, every protest and every condemnation by party members of Sir Keir’s stance shows the depth of Labour’s problems.

Yesterday, Sir Keir and his deputy, Angela Rayner, met MPs who are angry with his stance on terror. 

One Labour councillor, Shaista Aziz, yesterday attacked Sir Keir for ‘a poorly phrased tweet that referenced Hamas’s hostages’

One Labour councillor, Shaista Aziz, yesterday attacked Sir Keir for ‘a poorly phrased tweet that referenced Hamas’s hostages’

According to reports of the meeting, he stressed that he has always said that Israel must adhere to international law, which it always does when it fights. Unlike Hamas, which deliberately butchers civilians.

This is a serious test for Sir Keir and the way he responds to it will teach us much about what sort of prime minister he might be should he win power.

There are already signs that the pressure is getting to him. In an interview with LBC on October 11, Sir Keir appeared to agree that Israel had the right to cut off the supply of power and water to Gaza.

But yesterday he tweeted that supplies of ‘aid, fuel, water, electricity and medicines must be urgently ramped up’.

If he buckles, he will only confirm the claims of his critics who see him as a man who will say or do anything that gets him off the hook in any given crisis.

If he stays firm, however, he will demonstrate he can be resolute when it matters.

Stephen Pollard is Editor at Large of The Jewish Chronicle



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