UK: Muslim leaders accuse Labour Party head Starmer of 'gravely' misrepresenting meeting in Wales

UK: Muslim leaders accuse Labour Party head Starmer of 'gravely' misrepresenting meeting in Wales
The South Wales Islamic Centre issued an apology for the 'hurt and confusion' caused by hosting the Labour leader following his controversial pro-Israel comments, as further outrage ensues over Labour leadership actions
4 min read
26 October, 2023
Keir Starmer met with Muslim MPs as tensions reignited over 'pro-Israel' stance [Getty]

The leader of the UK opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer has garnered a backlash within his party after he was accused of "gravely misrepresenting" a meeting with Muslim leaders in Wales.

Starmer visited the South Wales Islamic Centre on Sunday and later took to X, formerly Twitter, to describe his sit down with members of the Welsh Muslim community.

"I repeated our calls for all hostages to be released, more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, for the water and power to be switched back on, and a renewed focus on the two-state solution," Starmer said. 

However, following his remarks, a Tuesday statement was issued by the South Wales Islamic Centre via the Muslim Council Wales social media page on X to express their "dismay" over Starmer's account of the meeting. 

"We wish to stress Keir Starmer’s social media post and images gravely misrepresented our congregants and the nature of the visit," the statement said.

"We affirm, unequivocally, the need for a free Palestine. We implore all those with political authority to uphold international law, and the end to the occupation of Palestine."

The statement also mentioned what had occurred during Sunday's meeting.

"There was a robust and frank conversation which reflected the sentiments Muslim communities are feeling at this time," the statement added.

"Members of the community directly challenged Keir on his statements made on the Israeli government's right to cut food, electricity and water to Gaza, warranting war crimes as well as his failure to call for an immediate ceasefire."

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The statement came after Starmer faced scrutiny by progressive leaders following his interview with LBC News, where he argued that Israel had the "right" to cut off water and electricity in the besieged Gaza Strip

However, he later redacted his statement by claiming that he meant that Israel had the right to defend itself. 

Growing tension within the Labour Party has led to 20 Labour councillors quitting Labour in solidarity with Palestine, while other MPs have since criticised the party's leadership’s stance on Gaza. 

On Wednesday, more than 150 Muslim Labour councillors signed a letter to urge the Party’s leadership to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza in order to protect the lives of civilians and allow access to humanitarian aid. 

More than 30 Labour MPs, along with former Labour leader Jeremy Corby who sits as an independent MP, have called for a ceasefire

The letters’ release coincided with Starmer’s meeting with Muslim MPs in the wake of the ongoing controversies, where his spokesperson told Sky News that the leader "recognises this is a very difficult time for a lot of people [and] there is a strong feeling on all sides."

The spokesperson added that Starmer "thinks it is right to sit down and hear views". 

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However, unnamed sources disclosed to news outlets The Tribune and Sky News on what Starmer allegedly said during the meeting. 

This included claims that "the party leader did not apologise for his comments made on LBC News", as well other testimonies of another Labour MP who stated that the meeting felt "tokenistic and has made matters worse".

The Tribune journalist Taj Ali added that it was alleged that "Starmer told one Muslim Labour MP that the party are waiting for the US to call for a ceasefire before they endorse such a position."

The New Arab has reached out to the Labour Muslim Network for comment.

Councillor Amna Abdullatif, who recently resigned from the Labour Party after ten years and currently sits as an independent, spoke to The New Arab about the recent disputes in the party. 

She said that the Labour's stance on Israel-Palestine had "caused deep harm to our communities” and those "who believe in justice and the humanity of all people".

Abdullatif and other Labour have been angered by Starmer's stance on the Gaza war including what appeared to be his defence of Israel withholding food, water, and electricity from Gazans. 

"As we sit here today, the death toll in Palestine is nearing 6,000 with over 2,000 of those being children, and yet the Conservatives nor the Labour Party can bring themselves to call for an immediate ceasefire," she said. 

Abdullatif added that the ongoing events have "hurt so much", saying that "Muslims in a vast majority have always found their home in the Labour Party.

"We vote predominantly for Labour and many of us have spent a lot of time in the party fighting for it. And what we've had in return is shameful as our support is massively taken for granted," she said. 

"I hope that for those who remain in the party that change can happen, but as it stands, that seems very unlikely."