Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy said she understands why the party has faced a backlash from Muslim members over Sir Keir Starmer’s comments on Israel.
The party has faced criticism and councillors have quit after Sir Keir appeared to suggest in an LBC interview that “Israel does have that right” to cut off power and water to Gaza, before later clarifying that he was referring to Israel’s right to defend itself.
Asked if she understands why some Muslim Labour members felt alienated by his comments, shadow international development minister Ms Nandy told the BBC: “I completely understand why people in the Muslim community are in extraordinary amounts of pain right now and heard those words and felt very concerned, and I’m glad that we’ve clarified that, I’m glad that we’ve been consistent about that.”
Asked if Sir Keir will apologise, she said: “We can’t apologise for holding a position that we’ve never held.”
She repeatedly declined to say whether she believes Israel has broken international law by laying siege to Gaza.
“I’m not going to sit in your studio and grandstand and tell you that I’m going to make big pronouncements about what Israel is and isn’t doing in what is a very complex, difficult situation,” she said.
“Israel is still having rockets fired against its own people from a proscribed terrorist organisation and where you’ve got 200 hostages sitting in basements in Gaza who haven’t yet been released.
“What we’ve got to ensure is that international law is upheld.
“That’s why the 20 trucks that went into Gaza were very important yesterday, but not sufficient, and that’s why all of our efforts are focused on keeping that window open, keeping that crossing open and scaling up those efforts urgently.
“There is a humanitarian catastrophe looming for people in Gaza, and that’s where we’ve got to focus.”
“I think that Israel does have that right.”
— LBC (@LBC) October 11, 2023
On Friday, Oxford City councillors Imogen Thomas, Edward Mundy, Paula Dunne, Duncan Hall, Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini and Jabu Nala-Hartley quit the party, the latest to do so following Sir Keir’s comments on October 11.
The councillors said in a statement: “At a time when it’s been crucial to call for an immediate ceasefire and a de-escalation, and to insist Israel abides by international law, Keir Starmer and the shadow foreign secretary (David Lammy) have instead endorsed collective punishment, blockade, siege and mass civilian casualties.
“As Starmer has said ‘Israel has that right’ to continue deadly attacks on Gazans. This is complicity in war crimes.”