Keir Starmer holds meeting with Muslim MPs amid revolt over Israel policy

The Labour leader said the Jewish state had the 'right' to cut off power and water from Gaza


LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 11: Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer is interviewed for LBC during a media round on the morning of the final day of the Labour party conference on October 11, 2023 in Liverpool, England. The 2023 Labour Conference draws to a close today with speeches from Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary and Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Education Secretary as well as a guest appearance by Ukrainian Oleksandr Kornienko, the presiding officer of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Sir Keir Starmer has held a meeting with Labour Muslim MPs amid a growing backlash over the party’s policy on Israel.

In an interview with LBC after Hamas incursion on Israel, the Labour leader suggested the Jewish state had the "right" to cut off power and water from Gaza.

The remarks caused 20 councillors from various local authorities in England to resign from the party. Labour have also lost control of Oxford City Council after eight representatives resigned.

It is understood 12 Muslim MPs attended the meeting which started shortly after Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday afternoon.

Unease also appeared to be growing in Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet on Wednesday afternoon after Yasmin Qureshi used PMQs to call the situation in Gaza "collective punishment". 

The shadow minister for International Development asked Rishi Sunak: “How many more innocent Palestinians must die before this prime minister calls for humanitarian ceasefire?" A spokesman for Labour did not say whether Qureshi would be disciplined over the question.

Meanwhile, more than 150 Muslim Labour councillors have urged Sir Keir to back an "immediate ceasefire" in Gaza.

Councillors from areas including Barking and Dagenham, Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn and Bolton said the leadership had to work to end the "humanitarian disaster".

"As Labour councillors elected to serve our constituents, the message we have been hearing repeatedly over the past two weeks is simple, people just want to end the bloodshed and the loss of innocent life," they wrote.

"No nation, no people or community should have to endure collective punishment and the same should be the case for the Palestinian people."

And last night, the South Wales Islamic Centre accused the Labour leader of "gravely misrepresenting" its meeting with Muslim leaders on Sunday. 

Sir Keir shared images of the meeting saying he repeated calls for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and for water and power to be restored.

He said he was "questioned by members" and "made clear it is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines. International law must be followed."

But the centre said in a statement: “We wish to stress Keir Starmer's social media post and images gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit.

"There was a robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time.

"Members of the community directly challenged Keir on his statements made on the Israeli Government's right to cut food, electricity and water to Gaza, warranting war crimes as well as his failure to call for an immediate ceasefire."

A spokesperson for Sir Keir said: “We fully recognise that this is a very difficult time for a lot of people, there are strong feelings on all sides of the debate here and it is important that he takes the time to sit down and listen to people from all points of view, which he has sought to do throughout this process.” 

Since making the initial comments on LBC, Sir Keir has attempted to clarify his remarks. He told broadcasters: "I know that LBC clip has been widely shared and caused real concern and distress in some Muslim communities, so let me be clear about what I was saying and what I wasn't saying.

"I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defence, and when I said that right I meant it was that right to self-defence.

"I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines."

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