UK Labour leader Starmer: Israel must always have right to defend itself

LONDON (Reuters) – Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, said on Tuesday he was appalled by the start of a fresh Israel-Palestinian conflict and that he backed Israel’s right to defend itself.

“I am shocked and appalled by events in Israel,” Starmer told his party’s annual conference in Liverpool, northwest England.

“I utterly condemn the senseless murder of men, women and children – including British citizens – in cold blood by the terrorists of Hamas … This action by Hamas does nothing for Palestinians. And Israel must always have the right to defend her people.”

Under Starmer’s leadership, Labour, which has a commanding lead over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives in opinion polls ahead of an election expected next year, has taken a tough approach to rooting out antisemitism within its ranks.

The party was accused during former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure of discrimination and harassment against Jews, and the equalities watchdog found that Labour had serious failings in its handling of persistent complaints of antisemitism.

Corbyn, who once referred to members of Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”, was suspended from Labour in 2020 for downplaying the Equality and Human Rights Commission report.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout and Andrew MacAskill; writing by Sachin Ravikumar; editing by William James and Michael Holden)