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‘Completely alienated’: British Muslims on Labour, Tory stance on Gaza war | Israel War on Gaza News

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London, United Kingdom — Visiting Tel Aviv in mid-October, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stood next to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, who had launched a devastating war on Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel. “We want you to win,” Sunak told Netanyahu before the cameras.

More than two months later, the United Kingdom’s support for Israel’s war has remained largely unqualified, even as Israeli bombs and artillery firing have killed more than 21,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 8,000 children.

But whatever a “win” might look like for Israel, Sunak’s Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, whose leader Keir Starmer has also backed Netanyahu’s war, have both lost voters like Ala Sirriyeh, a senior lecturer in sociology at Lancaster University.

“It has shown very starkly who they are prepared to throw under the bus to get elected, whose welfare matters and whose does not,” she told Al Jazeera. “As a Palestinian, I feel completely alienated from the major political parties [in the UK] and will not be voting for either of them in the near future.”

She is not alone. As Israel continues to bomb Palestinians in Gaza, a coalition of political groups, worker’s unions, students, healthcare professionals, journalists, writers, and common people from all walks of life have been organising in the UK, urging their political leadership to call for a ceasefire. The protesters, day in and day out have occupied public spaces and weapons factories and marched across city centres and university campuses. Thousands of people have signed petitions calling for a ceasefire.

Yet, as leaders across both major parties have stayed firm in their support for Israel, they face a particular crisis of credibility among British Muslims, who constitute 6.7 percent of the population and traditionally largely vote in support of the Labour Party.

“It is deeply distressing to see these calls for a ceasefire being ignored or shut down,” Sirriyeh said.

In a survey involving 30,000 Muslim participants conducted in late October by the Muslim Census, an organisation based in the UK, only 5 percent of the respondents said they would vote for Labour in the next general elections. That is much lower compared with 71 percent of British Muslims who voted for the party in 2019. The Conservative Party, which drew 9 percent of the Muslim vote in 2019, would get less than 1 percent of the votes of those sampled in that survey.

In another survey of 1,032 Muslims across the UK, more than two-thirds expressed dissatisfaction with the British government’s response to the Israeli assault on Gaza. Nearly half of the respondents conveyed similar sentiments regarding Starmer’s approach to the crisis, though a majority still backed the Labour Party.

And it is not just Muslims in the UK. In a YouGov poll of overall public sentiments published on November 15, a third of the participants said the UK government should oppose Israel’s war and push for a ceasefire. Another quarter of those who participated called for a limited ceasefire. Only 9 percent opposed any kind of a ceasefire while backing Israel’s military aims.

“I have seen the conversations, and perceptions, regarding this issue shift substantially in favour of Palestine,” Arooj, a schoolteacher in her 20s who has participated in protest rallies, told Al Jazeera. Arooj said she was not comfortable sharing her full name, at a time when many pro-Palestinian protesters have been targeted at their workplaces.

Even a month after that survey, however, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron refused to back an immediate ceasefire, in an op-ed, written in collaboration with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock. “We do not believe that calling right now for a general and immediate ceasefire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward,” they wrote, blaming Hamas for the crisis.

Starmer too has refused to back a full end to fighting in Gaza, instead calling for a “sustainable ceasefire”, a phrase that Tayib Ali, the director of the UK-based International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, termed a “weak and watered down call”.

During a parliamentary vote on a ceasefire resolution, introduced by the Scottish Nationalist Party, Starmer threatened Labour members with expulsion if they voted in favour. Earlier, in a radio interview, the Labour leader backed Israel’s decision to withhold water and electricity from Gaza.

Meanwhile, United Nations experts and leading human rights groups have warned that Israel is likely committing war crimes and that its actions might amount to genocide, as South Africa has alleged in a case before the International Court of Justice.

Sirriyeh said she believes the Labour leadership’s reluctance to criticise Israel stems from fears that allegations of anti-Semitism might be weaponised against the party. “Given the critiques levied at the Labour Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership about the party’s failure to address alleged anti-Semitism within its ranks, there is a wariness among politicians for calling for a ceasefire and calling out Israeli war crimes,” she said.

Starmer has faced a revolt from sections of his party over his stance. Imran Hussain, a front bench MP and shadow minister, in his resignation letter to Starmer, said a ceasefire was essential to ending the suffering of people in Gaza. Accusing Israel of inflicting war crimes and collective punishment, Hussain wrote, “The situation in Gaza is now beyond that of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Condemning Starmer’s support for Israel’s policy of withholding water and electricity from Gaza, at least 23 Labour councillors left the party. Shaista Aziz, one among them, wrote that the Labour leader had “horrifyingly endorsed the collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza”.

But it is on the streets that Arooj sees the future of pro-Palestinian solidarity in the UK, in the form of young people — including schoolchildren — who have marched against the war. Polling shows that younger people in the UK lean significantly in support of Palestine. “The younger generation gives me hope,” she said.

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