The UK’s official pro-Israel bias concerns the country’s Muslims and Palestinians

The UK's pro-Israel bias concerns Muslims and Palestinians
5 min read
13 December, 2023

On a balmy London afternoon during Armistice Day this year, a camera panned over a sea of people gathered in Central London.

From the march of more than half a million people, one could fathom the extent of support that the cause of Palestinian liberation enjoys within the United Kingdom.

The people, who travelled from all over the country to oppose the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza, made it clear that they wanted an immediate end to the Israeli bombardment of the besieged enclave as well as the 75-year-old occupation of Palestine.

"A recent poll of 30,000 Muslim participants by Muslim Census, a UK-based organisation, revealed that only 0.6% intended to vote for the Conservative party while 4.8% support the Labour party"

While the officials in the British government had tried their utmost to prevent this massive outpouring onto the streets of London, they demonstrably failed to stop one of the largest, perhaps the largest, protests that the city has ever witnessed.

Suella Braverman, the erstwhile home secretary, labelled the protesters as “hate marchers” and “terrorists” who wanted to assert an “Islamist” primacy.

Accusing the metropolitan police of a pro-Palestine bias, Braverman also tried to ban the march on Armistice Day, but the police found no legal ground to proceed with that demand.

Despite overwhelming popular calls, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of his cabinet have, so far, refrained from calling for a ceasefire.

Days after the Hamas attack and subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza, the Prime Minister travelled to Tel Aviv to express “solidarity with the Israeli people” and his desire for an Israeli victory.

“We… want you to win,” announced the Prime Minister during a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu. No word was uttered for the people in Gaza, suffering under the constant attack of Israeli bombs and artillery. 

56 Labour MPs defied the party instruction not to vote in favour of the amendment, including 10 front benchers, eight of which are shadow cabinet members and two being parliamentary aides [Getty Images]
56 Labour MPs defied the party's instruction not to vote in favour of the amendment, including 10 frontbenchers, eight of whom are shadow cabinet members and two being parliamentary aides
[Getty Images]

Back home in Britain, the Tories as well as the Labour Party have refrained from calling for a ceasefire and recently defeated a parliamentary vote on the issue.

The vote, which was introduced by the Scottish Nationalist Party, called for a permanent ceasefire. While the Tories have been firm on their stand on avoiding explicit calls to a ceasefire, the Labour Party, including some frontbenchers and members of the shadow cabinet, appeared to be divided on the issue.

Over 50 Labour members voted for the parliamentary resolution, urging Israel to “end the collective punishment of Palestinian people” while pro-Palestine protestors gathered outside the House of Commons.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, has faced numerous calls for supporting a ceasefire but has only gone to the extent of supporting temporary “humanitarian pauses” in fighting. However, critics say that these temporary pauses cannot be a replacement for a permanent ceasefire.

Amid this mismatch between popular sentiment in Britain and political circles, the Muslims in Britain feel let down by both the major parliamentary parties.

A recent poll of 30,000 Muslim participants by Muslim Census, a UK-based organisation, revealed that only 0.6 percent intended to vote for the Conservative Party while 4.8 percent supported the Labour Party.

Compared to the voting patterns of the 2019 general election, these numbers are down, respectively, by 8.4 and 66.2 percent.

In a similar poll of 1,032 Muslims across the UK, more than two-thirds were dissatisfied with the British government’s response to the Israeli assault against Gaza, and nearly half of them expressed the same feelings towards Kier Starmer’s handling of the crisis. 

According to Abdulla Moaswes, a PhD researcher at the University of Exeter, Starmer aims to distinguish his leadership as much as possible from that of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, whose political stance is generally seen as pro-Palestine.

“It seems that some part of Starmer’s reluctance to call for a ceasefire arises out of his attempts to purge the party of supposed ‘Corbynist’ elements,” Abdulla told The New Arab.

The persistent inability of widespread popular protests to bring about a change in the country's politics concerning Palestine continues to be a significant worry for the Muslim communities in the UK.

“As a Muslim based in Britain, I feel pain and agony for the genocide that is being inflicted upon fellow Muslims as well as people of other faiths in Palestine,” Farzan Dar, a PhD researcher in legal studies, told The New Arab.

In the context of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Farzan expressed an inability to distinguish between the policies of the Labour and Tory parties. “While the Tories have outright targeted all protesters, particularly through their dangerous rhetoric, the Labour members did not do anything substantial either,” Farzan added.

This assessment was echoed by Ahmed, a member of the recently formed Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Network, a grassroots group that rallies in support of the Palestinian cause.

“It seems both sides of the political spectrum in Britain are working in tandem when it comes to Israel. And where Washington leads, Westminster will undoubtedly follow,” Ahmed told The New Arab.

Expressing a collective inability to enable change in national politics in the short term, Ahmed thought that organising at the grassroots level could bring about change.

“We will be working hard to inform and mobilise the community to vote strategically and with their conscience,” Ahmed said. “Labour can no longer be allowed to take the Muslim vote (in Britain) for granted.”  

The disappointing stance of the government and the opposition has, however, not dampened the determination of protesters in the country.

Arooj, a university lecturer, feels hopeful for the young people in Britain, whose views seem to be increasingly pro-Palestinian and actively in opposition to Israeli policies against the Palestinians.

“Even children in schools, as young as 13 years old, have been vocal in their support for Palestine,” Arooj, who took part in the Armistice Day protest, told The New Arab. “As a teacher and an educator, I am seeing a shift in the political conversations within younger generations in particular.”

Seeing the levels of popular support for the cause, the Palestinian diaspora in the UK also feels reassured.

“I feel inspired by the groundswell of support for Palestine,” Abdulla Moaswes, the PhD researcher, says. “It softens the impact of tangible threats that we, as Palestinians, face in the UK.”

Abdulla, however, qualified this hope with a concern for official policy. For him, the “anti-Palestinian bi-partisan consensus (inside Westminster) only adds to the climate of overwhelming insecurity."