Labour's Lisa Nandy responds to backlash over Keir Starmer's comments on Israel's siege of Gaza

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09: Lisa Nandy, Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development speaks during an In Conversation fringe event on day two of the Labour Party conference on October 09, 2023 in Liverpool, England. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves is among Labour MPs and Shadow Ministers addressing delegates on day two of party conference.  (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Lisa Nandy said she understands why the Labour party has faced a backlash from Muslim members over Sir Keir Starmer’s comments on Israel. (Getty) (Ian Forsyth via Getty Images)

Labour shadow minister Lisa Nandy has spoken out in the wake of the backlash from Muslim members over Sir Keir Starmer’s comments on Israel.

Labour councillors have quit and the party has faced criticism after Starmer appeared to suggest in an LBC interview that "Israel does have that right" to cut off power and water to Gaza.

Amid the backlash, he later clarified that he was referring to Israel’s right to defend itself.

On Sunday, shadow international development minister Lisa Nandy was asked if she understood why some Muslim Labour members felt alienated by Starmer's comments, telling the BBC: "I completely understand why people in the Muslim community are in extraordinary amounts of pain right now and heard those words and felt very concerned, and I’m glad that we’ve clarified that, I’m glad that we’ve been consistent about that."

Asked if the Labour leader would apologise, she said: “We can’t apologise for holding a position that we’ve never held.”

She repeatedly declined to say whether she believed Israel had broken international law by laying siege to Gaza.

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What did Keir Starmer say?

Keir Starmer grilled on the UK's support for Israel by LBC's Nick Ferrari at the party's conference in Liverpool.

During the interview, the Labour leader was asked if "cutting off power, cutting off water" was appropriate as a response to attacks by Hamas.

Sir Keir replied: "I think that Israel does have that right... It is an ongoing situation. Obviously, everything should be done within international law."

Several Labour councillors quit over his remarks - including Amna Abdullatif, the first Arab Muslim woman elected to Manchester City Council, Russell Whiting in Colwick, Nottinghamshire, and Mona Ahmed, a Labour councillor in Kensington and Chelsea.

Oxford City councillors Imogen Thomas, Edward Mundy, Paula Dunne, Duncan Hall, Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini and Jabu Nala-Hartley quit the party on Friday

The councillors said in a statement: "At a time when it’s been crucial to call for an immediate ceasefire and a de-escalation, and to insist Israel abides by international law, Keir Starmer and the shadow foreign secretary (David Lammy) have instead endorsed collective punishment, blockade, siege and mass civilian casualties.

"As Starmer has said ‘Israel has that right’ to continue deadly attacks on Gazans. This is complicity in war crimes."

The Labour leader has insisted that he did not mean to imply that Israel would be justified to cut off power and water to Gaza.

Antisemitism in the Labour Party

The Labour Party has faced ongoing criticism about antisemitism in the party, but Starmer has been found to have taken steps to rid the party of it.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a formal investigation in 2019 into the party - which was then led by Jeremy Corbyn - to determine whether it had discriminated against, harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish.

In October 2020, it served the Labour Party with an unlawful act notice, after its investigation found the party responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination, which meant it was obliged to produce an action plan to prevent similar acts happening again.

In February this year, the equalities watchdog found that the party had made sufficient changes to rid its ranks of anti-Semitism.

At the time, Starmer said: "Today is an important moment in the history of the Labour Party. It has taken many, many months of hard work and humility to get here."

"We can say firmly, proudly, confidently: The Labour Party has changed ... Under my leadership there will be zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, of racism, of discrimination of any kind."

The Labour leader also said his predecessor - who was suspended from Labour in 2020 - would not stand for re-election as a Labour Party candidate, telling reporters: "Jeremy Corbyn will not stand for Labour ... What I said about the party changing, I meant we are not going back."