Labour MP apologises after saying Rishi Sunak has Palestinian 'blood on hands' over 'Israel support'

Labour MP apologises after saying Rishi Sunak has Palestinian 'blood on hands' over 'Israel support'
Tahir Ali used PMQs to criticise the UK Prime Minister for his continued support for Israel in the face of mounting evidence of human rights violations.
3 min read
25 January, 2024
Rishi Sunak has reaffirmed the UK's longstanding support for Israel with gusto, as has Labour leader Keir Starmer [Getty]

Labour MP Tahir Ali apologised on Wednesday night after accusing UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of having Palestinian "blood on his hands" for allegedly supporting Israel’s war on Gaza.

During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, the MP for Birmingham Hall Green condemned Sunak's refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza, his denial of Israeli war crimes, and support for the UK's arms deals with Israel.

"Recently released documents reveal that the Foreign Office had serious concerns with Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law on its ongoing assault," Ali said in the House of Commons.

"This assessment was hidden from parliament, whilst the prime minister boldly stated his confidence in Israel’s respect for international law. Since then the scale of Israel’s war crimes in Gaza have been revealed… thanks to South Africa’s case to the ICJ.

"Therefore, is now not the time for the prime minister to admit that he has the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands and for him to commit to demanding an immediate ceasefire and ending of the UK’s arms trades with Israel?"

Sunak ignored all of Ali’s points, instead taking a swipe at Labour leader Keir Starmer's claim to have changed the party since the era of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, who was a vocal critic of Israel.

Last week, The Guardian reported how an internal Foreign Office assessment in late November was unable to conclude if Israel’s bombing was a violation of international law.

Starmer’s spokesman did not respond to the points raised by Ali but put distance between him and the Labour leadership, saying the Midland MP’s language was "not what we would support or endorse".

Three hours later, Ali apologised for his comments on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

"While I do not resile from my strongly held views on the situation in the Middle East, I would like to apologise for the way in which I described the prime minister in my question," Ali wrote.

"We all have a responsibility to be respectful in the language that we use, even when discussing difficult and, at times, sensitive issues."

UK media claimed this followed a dressing down from Labour’s Chief Whip Sir Alan Campbell.

Campbell has the power to 'withdraw the whip', effectively suspending MPs from the party, but there were no claims this threat occurred.  

Many pro-Palestine activists or critics of Israel have argued that the job of the opposition is to take the UK government to account for its self-declared support for Israel in Gaza, where at least 25,700 people - the vast majority civilians - have been killed.

"We expect this cruelty from Tory MPs -I’ve never expected anything else my entire life but the cowardly silence and lack of support from the Labour benches following the excellent question from Tahir Ali is criminal and I do mean it literally," Audrey White, a Liverpool-based activist said on X.

Starmer has also been criticised by members of his own party for failing to support Gaza and its 2.3 million inhabitants more strongly.

The New Arab reached out to both Tahir Ali and the Office of the Labour Party's Chief Whip for comment but received no reply at the time of publication.