The Moral Cowardice of UK’s Opposition Leader on Palestine

Jonathan Cook condemns Keir Starmer’s failure to make it clear that Israel is committing war crimes for which there should be harsh consequences.

Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer MP in 2020. (UK Parliament, Flickr, Jessica Taylor, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Jonathan Cook

No one should be surprised that Britain’s rightwing prime minister, Boris Johnson, has had barely anything to say about Israel’s pummeling of Gaza, with nearly 200 Palestinians reported to have been killed by airstrikes and many hundreds more seriously wounded.

Nor should we be surprised that Johnson has had nothing to say about the fact that Israel is using British weapons to bombard Gaza, killing families and blowing up media centers.

Johnson has had nothing to say either about Israel’s recent efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem — the very obvious trigger, along with its attacks on the al-Aqsa mosque, for this latest round of so-called clashes between Israel and Hamas.

And like most of his predecessors, Johnson has had remarkably little to say about the much longer-term ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that was always at the core of mainstream Zionism’s mission and was officially sponsored by Britain through its 1917 Balfour Declaration.

But if Johnson’s performance at this critically important moment has been predictably dismal, what about the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer? Presumably he is picking up the slack, making clear that Israel is committing war crimes and that there must be harsh consequences, such as sanctions and an arms embargo.

Except Starmer is strangely quiet too.

Moral Cowardice

Over the past week, Starmer has tweeted three times on matters related to events in Israel-Palestine. The first two were nearly a week ago, before Israel had begun unleashing the full might of its arsenal on Gaza. Starmer joined others in mealy-mouthed calls to “de-escalate tensions,” as though this was a slightly-too-noisy row between a bickering couple rather than serial wife-beating that has been going on for decades, aided by Britain.

As the death toll in Gaza has mounted, and the both-sidism favored by Western leaders is exposed ever more starkly as moral cowardice, Starmer has uttered not a word on the events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Complete quiet.

That was until Sunday, when Starmer took time out from his day of rest to comment on a small convoy of cars — driven from Bradford and Oldham, according to a Jewish News report — that had passed through an area of London where many Jews live, waving Palestinian flags and shouting anti-Semitic curses.

Starmer commented: “Utterly disgusting. Antisemitism, misogyny and hate have no place on our streets or in our society. There must be consequences.”

And sure enough, there were immediate consequences. The police arrested four people under hate-crime laws.

Pain & Insult

In referring to Bradford and Oldham, the Jewish News report was suggesting — probably correctly — that the occupants of the cars were drawn from the large Muslim populations that live in those cities.

This is a pattern we have seen before. When Israel starts attacking Palestinians, many of whom are Muslim and whose lands include important Islamic holy sites under constant threat from Israel, Muslims are likely to feel the pain and insult far more deeply and personally than most other British populations.

Their outrage is likely to peak when Israel desecrates a holy site under occupation such as al-Aqsa in Jerusalem — which is also a powerful symbol of the Palestinians’ aspiration towards political sovereignty in their historic homeland — during the holy month of Ramadan.

Many Muslims feel Israel’s reckless bombardment of Gaza and its civilian population, as well as the invasion of al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli soldiers, as very personal attacks on their dignity, their identity and their values.

“White” Britons struggling to understand such emotions might try to recall how incensed they felt at an attack by Islamic extremists on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris back in 2015. That led to a march through the French capital by world leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, upholding free speech, most especially the right to offend Muslims’ religious sensitivities, as a supreme — and inviolable — value. (That is the same Paris that at the weekend used water cannon and baton charges against Palestinian solidarity activists, many of them Muslims, trying to exercise their free speech rights to denounce Israel’s attacks on Gaza.)

Many “white” Europeans felt the attack on Charlie Hebdo as a threat to Enlightenment values and as an assault on “Western civilization.” Similarly, many Muslims feel Israel’s attacks on Palestinians and on the sanctity of Islamic holy sites, largely indulged by Western politicians and the Western media, as no less grave a threat.

Dangerous Conflation

And just as it is common for many “white” Europeans — including Western politicians — to confuse Muslims and Islam with Islamic extremism, blaming a religion for the flaws of its more extreme adherents, so a portion of Muslims wrongly associate Jews in general with the crimes committed by Israel.

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Israel does nothing to dispel this dangerous conflation. In fact, it actively encourages it. It declares itself the state of the entire Jewish people, disdaining the presence and rights of 1.8 million second-class Palestinian citizens. Or as Netanyahu observed two years ago, shortly after enshrining institutionalized racism in Israeli law, Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.” When Israel speaks and acts, its leaders claim, it speaks and acts on behalf of all Jews worldwide.

Some prominent Western Jews — including Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland — add to the confusion. They appear to agree with Netanyahu by avowing that Israel is at the core of their identity and that attacks on Israel are an attack on who they are. This line of argument was widely weaponized against former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, suggesting he was engaging in anti-Semitism, or at least indulging it, by being such a trenchant critic of Israel.

So, however wrong it was for the occupants of those cars at the weekend to be shouting anti-Semitic profanities, and however right it is for the police to be investigating this incident, it is not something difficult to explain. Manufactured confusion over the distinctions between Jews, Judaism, Israel and Zionism are as common as manufactured confusion over Muslims, Islam, various Islamic states and jihadism.

But there is a more important point to make that relates directly to Starmer — and most other Western politicians. He may claim the moral high ground in his public denunciations of the anti-Semitic curses from the convoy of cars in London at the weekend. But he must take a considerable chunk of the blame for them.

Trampled Dignity

Over the past week British politicians have mostly chosen to avert their gaze from the war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians with Britain’s help — in the form of diplomatic silence, weapons sales and continuing trade agreements.

With Corbyn gone, no one in British politics now represents the rights of Palestinians — and by extension the rights of Britain’s large Muslim population, whose interests and dignity are trampled every time Israel’s army kills, wounds or demonizes Palestinians or desecrates Palestine’s holy places.

In his studied silence about Israel’s bombing of Gaza — after Israel recklessly provoked Hamas rockets by intensifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem to replace them with Jewish settlers — Starmer has sent a clear message to Britain’s Muslim communities, like those in Bradford and Oldham:

I do not represent you or your concerns. I support, as I stated during my campaign to become Labour leader, “Zionism without qualification.” Like the Palestinians, you are on your own. You are not part of the British debate.

It is not just that Britain’s Muslims have been abandoned by politicians like Starmer. Muslims understand that, when it comes to core issues of their identity and their dignity, they have no representation, no voice, in the U.K. in stark contrast to the treatment of Jewish communities that choose to support the belligerent, apartheid state of Israel.

Those Jews — unlike Britain’s anti-Zionist Jews — have Starmer’s full attention, his “support without qualification.” That was why Starmer was only too ready to insult every Muslim in Britain by cancelling at the last minute his attendance at a Ramadan supper last month, to break that day’s fast, at the behest of pro-Israel Jewish groups. The reason? One of the supper’s organizers had once spoken in favour of boycotting Israel’s settlements, in line with international law — a position one might have imagined a high-profile lawyer like Starmer would have appreciated rather than punished.

Fuelling Alienation

These actions have all too predictable consequences. They fuel alienation from British politics among many Muslims, and racism and extremism among a very small subsection of them — of exactly the kind we saw at the weekend in the convoy driving through London.

Denouncing the convoy’s participants as racist while pretending that there are no grounds for Muslims — or anyone else who cares about international law and human rights — to feel aggrieved by what is happening in Gaza, as Starmer has effectively done through his silence, is to pick further at an open wound. It is to claim an entirely unjustified “white” righteousness — like those two-faced world leaders who marched through Paris in 2015 — that serves only to deepen the offense and spread it.

In professing his blind support for Israel and Zionism — Israel’s ideology of Jewish supremacism, the counterpart of extreme political Islam — Starmer revealed himself to be an utter hypocrite and racist. One rule for ugly Muslim supremacism, another for ugly Israeli supremacism. One denounced, one placated.

Starmer is not seeking to “de-escalate” the “tensions” causing bloodshed thousands of miles away in the Middle East — and mostly, let’s note, among Palestinians. Rather, he is fuelling those very same tensions, escalating them, in his own back yard. He may not be shouting profanities at the top of his voice from his car window. He has no need to.

He can cause even more damage simply by loudly prosecuting verbal threats while quietly exonerating war crimes that cause mass death.

Jonathan Cook is a former Guardian journalist (1994-2001) and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.

This article is from his blog Jonathan 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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12 comments for “The Moral Cowardice of UK’s Opposition Leader on Palestine

  1. DW Bartoo
    May 20, 2021 at 14:56

    Ah, the beknighted Sit Keir Starmer, wallowing about in the turpitude.

    Clearly an Organization Man, for whom questions of morality are simply oppprtunitied to display his fealty to the Powers That Be.

    Recall that, as Queens Attorney (QA), he played a significant role in the prosecution (and persecution) of Julian Assange, while his function as Labour leader is to bring back, forever, the Blairite sensibility of iron-fisted expediency and total submission to the gentle dictates of money.

    Starmer loves both power and privilege.

    The lives of the little people, be they Palestinians or Brits, mean nothing to such a stellar being.

    Reason and humanity are not in it.

    Calculation, of the Machiavellian sort is his aim, his game and, should Labour lose to Galloway, in the upcoming election, then someone other than Starmer will be totally to blame.

    And please, let us hear no more that Starmer is a self-made man of the people, a man of vision and principle.

    In truth, he is a little man, in courage, tolerance, and understanding, bereft of conscience to such a degree that he would make an ideal Democratic presidential confidante: in the U$, a champion of the $tatu$ Quo with all the bland charm of “nothing will change” coupled to an Obama-like star quality.

    The Queen’s subjects, at least the many, will benefit not in the least from his shining rise to the top.

    Labour is quite happy to be Tory Lite.

    With a figurehead of Starmer’s charm and wit at the helm, Jolly Olde would become an even more docile and attentive lap dog to the Great Hegemon in coming the “great game” of putting Russia and China in their place.

    Sit Starmer!

    Roll over!


    We superior Anglo types are destined to rule the world as WE see fit.

    Any serious opposition and we unleash our nastiest words and fire up our First Strike nuclear Final Solution.

  2. Henry Smith
    May 20, 2021 at 07:01

    Starmer is an admitted Zionist, he is also married to one. No surprise there. He is only in the position he is because of actual support from Israel – monetary and PR. He also employs a Mossad agent as his press officer.
    Starmer holds the unofficial position of Israeli Ambassador to the UK regime.

  3. rick
    May 20, 2021 at 06:45

    Politicians like Starmer and Johnson are seminal advocates for the role of the UK National Security State that works in partnership with the US and Israel policing the Middle East and extinguishing any resistance to the hegemony of the Empire. The UK will pretend otherwise through its supine controlled media but the reality is that the UK is at war in Yemen, in Syria and in Gaza. In truth the UK initiated the ethnic cleansing of Palestine with the Balfour Declaration and since 1917 has continued to support this Zionist Project without reservations either legal or moral ever since. With this unwavering support the Israeli war criminals will continue to act with impunity and immunity to pursue what Ariel Sharon (Prime Minister of Israel and director of the 1982 Lebanon War known as the “Butcher of Beirut”) called the “1948-style solution” the destruction of all Palestinian authority and leadership followed by mass expulsions and the demolition and destruction of a viable Palestinian Community in Gaza.

  4. JPC-W
    May 20, 2021 at 02:04

    Sir Trevor Edwin Chinn CVO (born 24 July 1935) is a British businessman, philanthropist, and political activist.

    Up to 2016, he donated to the office or campaigns of a number of Labour Party politicians, including MPs Tony Blair, Ruth Smeeth, Liz Kendall, Tom Watson and Dan Jarvis. Since 2016, he has additionally financially supported the MPs Ivan Lewis, Owen Smith, Lisa Nandy, Tristram Hunt, Jack Dromey, Ian Austin, Rachel Reeves and Liam Byrne. In February 2020, he donated £50,000 to support the Labour party leadership election campaign of Keir Starmer.

    Described as a Jewish community grandee, throughout his life he has also devoted himself to the Jewish community in Britain and supporting Israel in a number of roles, for example: chairman and President of the Joint Israel Appeal, the leading organisation in Britain supporting Israel’s humanitarian needs; board member of The Jewish Community Centre for London, President of Norwood from 1996 to 2006; one of the founders of the Jewish Association for Business Ethics (and now Vice-President). Sir Trevor currently sits on the Executive Committee of the Jewish Leadership Council and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). In 2016, he became President of the Movement for Reform Judaism.

    Chinn is a long-time supporter of Labour Friends of Israel.

    The Starmer Labor Party has been bought and sold.

  5. Eric
    May 19, 2021 at 18:58

    With all due respect, Jonathan, you know that Starmer was installed as leader
    precisely because he is a Zionist (like the other four Labour contenders),
    in a plot at least partly engineered by Israel to oust Jeremy Corbyn.

    It is indeed useful to expose Starmer’s collaboration with war crimes,
    but what is the benefit in pretending he might do otherwise?

  6. robert e williamson jr
    May 19, 2021 at 17:08

    “The Cowardice of UK’s Opposition Leader On Palestine “, Jonathan there seems to be an epidemic of cowardice in Washington D.C. also.

    The commander of the U.S. Ship of State seems to completely support Israeli apartheid colonialism’s tyrannical rule as imposed on Palestinians by Israel’s occupying right fanatical right wing government.

    He also seems to see Israel as a ” so called state ” operating under democratic rule when nothing could be further from the truth.

    So Biden must be: #1 A bald faced liar #2 A hopelessly misled Fool #3 A coward acting in fear of the substantial “blow-back” to his administration to be strong and do the right thing.

    Pick one of the above or all three!

    Absolutely shameful, pathetic, impotent leadership, hell what could go wrong.

    Thanks CN

  7. rosemerry
    May 19, 2021 at 16:41

    Nobody can be surprised at the words and actions of Starmer, who is a “Labour leader” only because he lied and demonised Jeremy Corbyn, a real supporter of workers, fairness, human rights for all -a man recognised by the British people as a genuine leader. Very few find Starmer to have any of these features.
    It is a disgrace that the UK has “Conservative” leaders of the calibre of Boris Johnson to represent a nation proud of its influence in the world, and as an alternative a Zionist completely devoid of human feelings for anyone he disagrees with.

  8. Lou Cassivi
    May 19, 2021 at 16:36

    Thanks Jonathan. Well said. Is there any political party or politician on the globe (apart from those in the handful of progressive/ socialist countries not yet taken over and occupied by the U.$.) not under Fascist Israel’s control? Rhetorical question. Sorry.

  9. Drew Hunkins
    May 19, 2021 at 15:35

    The “mad dog” perception that Israel wants to project to the world is at play as these events unfold.

    Israel has always wanted to project the image of a crazy state in which no one knows what to expect from one minute to the next, sort of like the Joe Pesci character in “Goodfellas.”

    In Israel Shahak’s absolutely essential must-read book “Jewish History, Jewish Religion” he consistently opines throughout that one should never expect rationality from the Israeli state, that Israel indeed often acts in a quite nonsensical manner on the international stage. This is due to the fact that the very nature of the entire Israeli nation-state is built on irrational religious tenets.

    Thus there’s always a chance the racist sadistic paranoid hegemonic artificial state of Israel could do just about anything.

  10. Carolyn L Zaremba
    May 19, 2021 at 15:23

    Starmer and Labour have nothing progressive to offer the working class. Labour hasn’t been progressive in decades.

    • Jake
      May 20, 2021 at 12:46

      Fully agree!

  11. Andrew D. Thomas
    May 19, 2021 at 15:09

    “How long, O Lord, how long
    Can this terrible s**t go on?”
    Hunter S. Thompson

Comments are closed.