World / October 26, 2023

I Dedicated My Life to the Labour Party. Keir Starmer’s Stance on Gaza Made Me Leave.

The first Arab Muslim woman on Manchester’s city council writes about why she resigned over the party leader’s endorsement of Israel’s humanitarian blockade.

Amna Abdullatif
Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, on stage during the final day of the Labour Party conference on October 11, 2023 in Liverpool, England.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer on stage during the final day of the Labour Party conference on October 11, 2023, in Liverpool, England.

(Ian Forsyth / Getty Images)

I have dedicated much of my life to the Labour Party over the last decade. In 2019, I was proudly elected as the first visibly Muslim, Arab-heritage woman to represent Manchester City Council.

Although my family has always been political, we certainly weren’t loyal to any particular party; my father felt that aligning yourself with one party was a way to lose your political power. But I’d managed to convince them not only to vote Labour but to join the party and support its campaigning activities.

I believed in Labour. Its values of justice and equality reflected my own, and I was committed to helping the party kick out the Conservatives, who have decimated this country through austerity, chaos, and corruption at the expense of regular working people for the last 13 years. Even when I didn’t agree with everything my party leaders did, I felt secure that we were all fundamentally on the same page.

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But, in the weeks since the Israel-Gaza war has broken out, Labour leader Keir Starmer and some of his colleagues in the shadow cabinet have taken stances on the conflict that cross too many moral and ethical red lines for me. So it was with a heavy heart that on October 16, I made the decision to resign from the Labour Party.

I am not alone. There are now over 20 local politicians across the UK who have resigned their positions from the Labour Party because of Starmer’s actions in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The final straw for me was an October 11 radio interview in which Starmer was asked whether Israel’s right to defend itself extended to the siege of Gaza. Here is the exchange:

Interviewer: “A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?”

Starmer: “I think Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation. Obviously everything should be done within international law.”

This stance was then backed up by Labour’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry.

Starmer is a former human rights lawyer. He must know that collective punishment and the withholding of an occupied civilian population’s basic needs are contraventions of international humanitarian law. There was no gray area here.

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Since then, Starmer has compounded his mistake. Rather than apologize, he said, over a week later, that he had only ever meant to imply that Israel has a right to defend itself. (This statement, with its implication that Starmer didn’t say what we all clearly heard him say, struck me and many of my former Labour colleagues as blatant gaslighting.) He went to a mosque in Wales to clean up the damage from his comments, only for the mosque to claim that he had “gravely misrepresented…the nature of the visit.” He held a meeting with Muslim MPs in which he reportedly refused to apologize for his comments and refused to back a cease-fire in Gaza.

These actions have not only caused deep upset and harm to many of us who believe in the humanity of all people, but much more than this, they are deeply irresponsible—and they are hurting our communities.

In the last two weeks, the UK has seen huge increases in both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. In the US, a 6-year-old Palestinian Muslim child, Wadea Al-Fayoume, was stabbed to death. Mosques as well as synagogues have been targets of hate and abuse. Both Muslims and Jews have described feelings of anxiety and fear about their religious visibility.

The death toll in Gaza has now topped 7,000; over 3,000 of the dead are children. There is no end in sight.

But rather than call for a cease-fire, politicians like Starmer are instead giving a green light to Israel to carry on, even though a YouGov survey last week found that 76 percent of the British public support an immediate cease-fire.

I never thought at any point in my life that we’d be in a situation where asking for a cease-fire and peace would be seen as controversial until now. The message is clear to Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims as to how little the Conservative and Labour parties value their lives and their humanity.

I am clear on where I stand right now. So are my fellow former Labour members. We recognise and utterly condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas on Israelis, and we recognise and utterly condemn the atrocities committed by the Israeli government on Palestinians. We all have the ability to extend our humanity to all those deeply impacted by what is going on in the region.

But for me, the sense of being complicit by remaining in a party that is unable to call for an end to horrific human rights violations was too much.

I will continue to serve my local community until the end of my term as an independent politician, and I have been deeply humbled and grateful for the level of support I have received since my resignation.

Correction: This piece initially said that Abdullatif was the first Muslim woman to represent the Manchester City Council. In fact, she was the first visibly Muslim, Arab-heritage woman to do so.

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Amna Abdullatif

Amna Abdullatif is an independent member of the Manchester City Council.

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