Impact of Israel’s war on Muslim support in the UK

This article explores the significant decline in Muslim support for both of Britain’s major parties due to their reluctance to condemn Israel for its war on Gaza. The stance of political leaders, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer, has resulted in a credibility crisis, particularly among British Muslims, who traditionally lean towards the Labour Party. Surveys indicate a notable drop in Muslim support for the upcoming general elections, reflecting dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the Israeli attack on Gaza. Despite allegations of war crimes and calls for a ceasefire, leaders like Starmer and Foreign Secretary David Cameron have not endorsed an immediate cessation of combat. Internal party conflicts, resignations, and protests further highlight the complex dynamics surrounding this issue. The article emphasizes the evolving sentiments among the younger generation, expressing hope for a future marked by pro-Palestinian solidarity in the UK.

Declining backing for major parties amid Gaza war

In mid-October, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, expressing support for Israel’s war on Gaza following an attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

Despite the significant casualties, with over 21,000 Palestinians, including 8,000 children, killed by Israeli artillery and bombing, the UK’s backing for Israel has remained unwavering over two months later.

However, Sunak’s Conservative Party and Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, who also supports Netanyahu’s war, have experienced a decline in support, particularly from figures like Lancaster University sociology professor Ala Sirriyeh.

This discontent extends beyond academia to include political organisations, labour unions, students, medical professionals, journalists, and individuals from various backgrounds across the UK. Simultaneously, as Israel continues its attacks on Gaza, demonstrators have been actively protesting and demanding a ceasefire.

The ongoing support for Israel from the leaders of both major parties has led to a credibility crisis, especially among British Muslims, who constitute 6.7% of the population and traditionally lean towards the Labour Party. Sirriyeh emphasised the distress felt by many witnessing calls for a ceasefire being ignored or dismissed.

Impact of Israel’s war on Muslim support in the UK

In a late October poll conducted by the UK-based NGO Muslim Census, only 5% of 30,000 Muslim respondents supported the Labour Party in the upcoming general elections.

This marks a significant decline from the 71% support the party received from British Muslims in 2019. Additionally, less than 1% of the surveyed Muslim voters preferred the Conservative Party, which had garnered 9% of the vote in 2019.

Another study revealed that over two-thirds of participating Muslims in the UK expressed dissatisfaction with the British government’s handling of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

While most respondents continued to support the Labour Party, nearly half shared concerns about Keir Starmer’s approach to the situation.

Outside the UK, a YouGov survey on general public opinion released on November 15th found that a third of respondents believed the UK government should oppose Israel’s war and advocate for a ceasefire.

An additional 25% called for a restricted ceasefire, while only 9% supported Israel’s military objectives without endorsing any form of ceasefire.

Arooj, a 20-year-old schoolteacher who participated in protests, noted a significant shift in favour of Palestine in conversations and perceptions surrounding the issue.

However, safety concerns led her to withhold her full name during an interview with Al Jazeera.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Labour leader Keir Starmer have not supported an immediate ceasefire despite these sentiments. In an opinion piece co-written with German colleague Annalena Baerbock, Cameron attributed the situation to Hamas and rejected the idea of a quick, general ceasefire.

Starmer advocated for a “sustainable ceasefire,” a term criticised by Tayib Ali, head of the UK-based International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, as a “weak and watered-down call.”

Starmer’s ceasefire threats and the controversial stance on Israel

Starmer threatened to expel Labour members who voted in support of a ceasefire motion put out by the Scottish Nationalist Party during a parliamentary vote on the matter.

The Labour leader had earlier supported Israel’s move to cut off Gaza from water and power in a radio programme.

Leading human rights organisations and UN specialists have cautioned that Israel is probably committing war crimes and that its acts might constitute genocide, as South Africa has claimed in a case that is currently before the International Court of Justice.

Sirriyeh stated that she thinks accusations of anti-Semitism might be used as a weapon against the Labour leadership, which is why they are reluctant to condemn Israel.

“Given the critiques levied at the Labour Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership about the party’s failure to address alleged anti-Semitism within its ranks, there is a wariness among politicians for calling for a ceasefire and calling out Israeli war crimes,” she said.

The situation in Gaza is now beyond that of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Parts of Starmer’s party have revolted against him because of his position. In his letter of resignation to Starmer, front-bencher and shadow minister Imran Hussain stated that a ceasefire was necessary to alleviate the suffering of the Gaza population.

Hussain said in his article that “The situation in Gaza is now beyond that of a humanitarian catastrophe”, accusing Israel of committing war crimes and collective punishment.

At least 23 Labour council members quit the party in protest at Starmer’s endorsement of Israel’s policy of denying Gaza access to power and water. Among them was Shaista Aziz, who claimed that the Labour leader had condoned the collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza horrifically.

However, Arooj believes that young people, including kids, who have protested the war represent the future of pro-Palestinian solidarity in the UK.

According to polls, the younger generation in the UK is strongly in favour of Palestine. “I’m hopeful about the younger generation,” she remarked.

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