UK election: What have candidates said about Israel's war on Gaza?

UK election: What have candidates said about Israel's war on Gaza?
The New Arab looks at what different candidates in the UK have said about Israel's ongoing war on Gaza.
7 min read
23 June, 2024
The New Arab takes a look at what various candidates have said about the war on Gaza [Getty]

Millions of people around the UK will be casting their vote on 4 July in the general election, but for many of them, one subject in particular will be influencing the way they vote.

Israel's war on Gaza is a key issue for many in the UK, even taking priority over domestic matters as the war which began last October continues to dominate headlines and the death toll continues to mount.

Israel's war on the besieged enclave has killed over 37,551 Palestinians and wounded an additional 85,600 since October.

Discussions over Britain's role in the conflict, UK arms supplies to Israel and the treatment of protesters calling for a ceasefire have all been key talking points.

Politicians from the two main parties have expressed support for Israel during the war and this could cost them votes in the election, especially in Britain's Muslim communities.

Here, The New Arab looks at what some key figures from the various parties have said over the war on Gaza.

Conservative government

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repeatedly reiterated his support for Israel, saying it had a "right to defend its security".

Since the Hamas-led attack which killed over 1,170 Israelis last October, the Tory leader has continued to shed light on the impact on Israel.

Last April, to mark six months since the attack, Sunak said, "Israeli wounds are still unhealed" and that "families still mourn and hostages are still held by Hamas".

However, he also called for a "humanitarian pause" and said that civilians in Gaza were continuing to suffer, with "hunger, desperation and loss of life on an awful scale".

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Sunak said the UK has been making significant efforts to get aid into the enclave, and that "the whole of the UK is shocked by the bloodshed, and appalled by the killing of brave British heroes who were bringing food to those in need," following an Israeli strike that killed British aid workers from the World Central Kitchen NGO.

But in line with the UK government's pro-Israel stance, Foreign Secretary David Cameron has called on the BBC to start referring to Hamas as a "terrorist" organisation and said the UK would not stop supplying arms to Israel if it invaded Rafah.

In December, Tory former cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said it was "unhelpful" to call for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza and that Israel should be allowed to "finish the job" by freeing captives and protecting Israeli security.

Labour Party

Labour party leader Keir Starmer sparked a lot of backlash when he initially refused to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza following the outbreak of the war.

In October, Starmer backed the government in not supporting a ceasefire deal and said he did not believe a ceasefire was the correct decision at the time, in comments made to delegates at Chatham House in London.

He also told LBC that "Israel has the right to do everything it can" to get captives back and that "Israel has the right" to withhold power and water from Palestinian civilians.

However, since then he has called for ceasefire and more humanitarian aid into Gaza, as well as the release of Israeli captives held in the enclave.

When asked in an interview last week if he would recognise Palestine as a state, he said that a two-state solution would depend on Israel being "safe and secure" and a "viable" Palestine state offering this, adding that if Labour wins the election, it would play a full part in resolving the issue.

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Starmer refused to call the war on Gaza a "genocide" in the interview and did not provide further details on what the party's role would be in discussions to achieve peace.

The Party's manifesto vows to push for Palestine to be recognised as a state, following recognition recently by other western European countries.

David Lammy, Labour's shadow foreign secretary has also called for Israeli captives to be returned home while simultaneously condemning the "intolerable death and destruction" by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Lammy however has blamed Hamas, rather than Israel, for the continuation of the war saying "it was Hamas, not Israel, who rejected the last internationally brokered ceasefire deal. Now a new offer is on the table, and Hamas now have the power to stop fighting".

He also sparked anger when he suggested that late South African President Nelson Mandela would not have agreed with the ongoing protests over Gaza at campuses across the United States.

"There is a difference between peaceful protest of the kind Mandela would have advocated, and violence and rioting," he said.

Wes Streeting, a Labour MP for Ilford North has been in the spotlight in recent months for his position and track record on Israel.

According to Declassified, pro-Israel lobbyists have spent around around £30,000 on Streeting. In 2022, Streeing became was the first from Starmer's shadow cabinet to visit Israel in trip paid for by Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).

He has also called the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case against Israel a "distraction".

Green Party

Co-leaders of the Green Party Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay have called for a "full bilateral ceasefire" and the suspension of arms exports to Israel.

The party has become a more enticing option to people who usually vote for Labour over the past few months due to their stance in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

The party has also backed measures advocated by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Their manifesto promises their MPs will push for the end of "illegal occupation of Palestinian land". The party has also criticised the Tories and Labour for not taking stronger action amid the war on Gaza.

"We think the UK government — the current government and the incoming government — need to take seriously their responsibilities on the international stage, pushing Israel to make sure that they act within international law," Denyer told Politico in May.

Zack Polanski, the party's Deputy leader, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, saying on X "we must be clear about the conflation between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and antisemitism" in response to allegations of "antisemitism" in the party.

In October, Adam Pugh, the Green Party candidate for Deptford and Lewisham North said on X that "there is no peace without freedom, resist" and separately posted a photo of the Palestinian flag, adding the caption, "you don't have to be neutral when it comes to apartheid, colonisation and genocide".

Liberal Democrats

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, has called for an "immediate bilateral ceasefire" and the release of captives held in Gaza.

Layla Moran, the spokesperson for foreign affairs and international development, who is of Palestinian descent, has continued to criticise Israel's war on Gaza.

Moran, who has had family members affected by the war, said her family who managed to escape Gaza are "exhausted and traumatised".

"When will the United Kingdom finally fulfil its historic obligations to the region – recognise Palestine as a first step to delivering two states, the only way to guarantee the dignity and security which all Palestinians and Israelis deserve," she said in parliament last December.

"The UK government should be backing an immediate bilateral ceasefire, to provide space to achieve that political solution," she added.

The Cambridge Liberal Democrats councillor Cheney Payne has said that one of the most common questions she has been getting as a candidate for parliament is about her views on Gaza.

She said she supported a motion which condemns the attack by Hamas, calls for an immediate ceasefire and looks to investigate the implications of stopping banking with Barclays due to their investment and provision of financial services to companies arming Israel.

Reform UK

The leader of the right-wing Reform UK party, Nigel Farage, has used the war in Gaza to express concern about Muslim immigrants coming to the UK.

"I worry about a group of people that come into the country with whom not only do we have nothing in common but who support an organisation who is – from our perspective – a proscribed terrorist group," he said in an interview with GB News.

He also suggested there was growing prejudice against Israel in another interview with the platform.

Richard Tice, the chairman of the party and their former foreign policy spokesman, said in April "Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself against attack and the UK must stand rock solid in supporting this right" he said in a Facebook post in April.

According to the Guardian, the party have been increasingly focusing on outlawing pro-Palestine protests, as well as calling for a single British culture and policies that would "ban sharia".