Keir Starmer branded Hamas’s attack on Israel “appalling,” a condemnation that highlighted how the Labour leader has changed the party’s stance on a key foreign policy debate since replacing Jeremy Corbyn.
(Bloomberg) — Keir Starmer branded Hamas’s attack on Israel “appalling,” a condemnation that highlighted how the Labour leader has changed the party’s stance on a key foreign policy debate since replacing Jeremy Corbyn.
The Palestinian militant group’s unprecedented incursion into southern Israel threatened to overshadow Starmer’s efforts to rally the Labour faithful Sunday as the party’s annual conference got underway in Liverpool. Still, the episode underlined the contrast with Corbyn, who passed up a chance to condemn the attack in a social media post emphasizing the impact of Israel’s occupation.
“This is an appalling attack on Israel, a terrorist attack, for which there is no justification,” Starmer told the BBC, adding that the violence must be “called out across the world.” “The perpetrators of this have deliberately pushed back the prospect of peace agreements.”
Starmer is seeking to show that the Labour Party has returned to a more traditional foreign policy stance since the era of Corbyn, who had a long history of sharing platforms with supporters of both Hamas and Hezbollah before he became leader. The former chief prosecutor ejected Corbyn from Labour’s parliamentary party for failing to accept the results of a report into antisemitism in the opposition during his stewardship from 2015-20.
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The flare-up in violence in the Middle East was nonetheless expected to make it even harder for Starmer to use the conference to sell voters on his vision to improve Britain’s economy and restore public services. While Labour is well ahead of the ruling Conservative Party in public opinion polls, many voters say they’re still unsure what to think of Starmer.
The incident in Israel could distract from the whole conference, one member of Starmer’s shadow cabinet said, noting that the party could at best hope to get the second slot in news rundowns. While it was disappointing for Starmer, it would have been worse if Corbyn was still leader, the person said.
For his own part, Corbyn called for an “immediate ceasefire and an urgent de-escalation” to the fighting in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday. But he faced criticism for failing to condemn Hamas. Asked to do so by ITV on Sunday, he referred back to his social media post and said: “obviously, all attacks are wrong.”
While currently not a Labour MP, Corbyn remains a party member and he and his allies could cause a headache for Starmer at Labour’s high-profile annual conference in Liverpool, northwest England this week.
Highlighting Labour’s awkward relationship with Israel, pro-Palestinian campaigners greeted delegates at the entrance to the party’s convention venue, waving the Palestinian flag and brandishing placards saying “End Apartheid.”
Corbyn, who has been criticized for sharing platforms with a range of extremists over the years, is expected to speak at the left-wing “World Transformed” festival in Liverpool in the coming days.
The UK previously distinguished between Hamas’s military and political wings, only proscribing the former. But in November 2021, the government banned it in its entirety, saying “Hamas is a complex but single terrorist organization.”
(Updates with further comment from Corbyn in seventh paragraph.)
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