Reeves rejects suggestions Hamas attack caused by Israel’s ‘occupation’ of Gaza

The shadow chancellor echoed Sir Keir Starmer in condemning the deadly ‘terrorist attack’.

Sophie Wingate
Monday 09 October 2023 19:19 BST
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves (Peter Byrne/PA)
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves (Peter Byrne/PA)

Labour’s shadow chancellor has said a “terrorist attack” caused the Israel-Hamas conflict as she pushed back against suggestions Israel’s “occupation” of Gaza was to blame.

Rachel Reeves said she had “no time” for people cheering for the Palestinian cause on the sidelines of Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool.

She said Israel has “every right to defend itself” after Hamas’s deadly surprise assault, which provoked a furious response from Israel, leaving more than 1,100 dead on both sides.

What frustrates me so much is that what Hamas has done over the last few days has set back the cause for peace that I am so desperate to see in the Middle East

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves

The senior Labour figure insisted the party was standing by the people of Israel as she faced questions about the appearance of the top Palestinian diplomat in the UK at the conference.

Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom, who was reportedly set to attend a reception on Tuesday night, told CNN that “Israel knew that this was coming their way… It’s a consequence”.

Asked about his comment, Ms Reeves told Sky News on Monday: “I’m very upset about those remarks. Israel, and the attacks on civilians, the festival goers, the children who have been taken hostage, it is completely unacceptable.

“And Keir (Starmer), David, myself, the whole of the Labour Party stand by the people of Israel at this moment.”

Labour leader Sir Keir has clearly labelled Hamas’ incursion into Israel as a “terrorist attack”, in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn who resisted explicitly condemning the militant group.

Mr Corbyn sought to avoid directly criticising Hamas while being questioned in Liverpool, where he was attending left-wing events outside the Labour conference.

The former party leader said he condemned “any acts of violence” but on the “terrible situation in Israel and Palestine… the way to end that, I think, is to end the occupation of Palestine by Israel”.

Ms Reeves told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in response: “Gaza is not occupied by Israel.

“The real cause of what is happening now is a terrorist attack. If Britain or any other country was attacked by terrorists, we would believe, and rightly so, that we have every right to defend ourselves, to get back hostages and to protect our citizens.

“Israel is no different. It has every right to defend itself.”

She added: “Of course, it has to abide by international rules of engagement.”

Mr Corbyn is sitting as an independent MP after being removed from Labour’s parliamentary party over his response to antisemitism under his leadership, but remains a party member.

He will “absolutely not” be welcomed back as a Labour MP, Ms Reeves told LBC.

The shadow chancellor hit out at pro-Palestinian fringe events at the conference, telling Times Radio: “I’ve got no time for that.”

At one such event on Palestinians’ rights, Labour’s shadow minister for the Middle East and North Africa said the UK should “not turn a blind eye” to the “huge injustices committed against the Palestinian people for many years”.

Wayne David said Israeli settlers have also been guilty of “terrorist activity” and Israel’s response to Hamas’s attack “must be proportionate”.

He also told the event that more UK aid should go to Palestinians who must “not be equated with Hamas”.

But he was later contradicted by shadow international development secretary Lisa Nandy, who said the UK should review aid given to Palestinians following Hamas’ attack.

It came after the European Commission said it was putting all of its development aid for Palestinians under review and suspending all payments, and Germany and Austria suspended bilateral development aid to the territories.

“We’ll always support the Palestinian people,” Ms Nandy told another fringe event.

“But in light of current events, it’s right that the UK considers how British money is being spent and whether that British money is being used appropriately or whether it’s being used to support acts of terrorism.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner led a moment’s silence in memory of those killed in Israel on the conference floor on Monday afternoon.

Dame Louise Ellman, who rejoined Labour after quitting over Mr Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism, said the party must not tolerate any group which does not support Israel’s right to exist.

She told a Labour Friends of Israel event that she remains “fully behind” the two-state solution to end the conflict.

“But we cannot ignore what’s happening in Palestinian society as well, that has to be addressed,” she added.

“There has to be absolutely no tolerance of groups who still to this very day, and at this very moment, and even in this very conference, are supporting the idea that there should not be a state of Israel and that Zionism is racism.”

The pro-Palestinian fringe event heard that Hamas’ assault was not a surprise after the “humanitarian nightmare” faced by Palestinians for two decades.

Tayab Ali, director of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, said: “The attack in Israel comes amid an ongoing failure to grapple with the dangerous situation for Palestinians in the West Bank where Israel’s extreme-right government has escalated the brutal daily pain of occupation over the past year.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said she supported the police in tackling anti-Jewish incidents in the UK following the “truly barbaric” attack by Hamas.

She told a fringe event: “To see scenes on British streets of people apparently celebrating terrorist attacks is just truly appalling and we can never allow those who want to seize on events to pursue antisemitic agendas, to pursue hatred… we can never allow that to take place here in the UK.”

Meanwhile Labour frontbencher Afzal Khan apologised after posing for a photograph in front of a Palestinian flag saying “end apartheid now”.

The shadow trade minister posed for the picture at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s stand at the Labour Party conference.

The Manchester Gorton MP said: “I want to apologise for any offence caused by stopping by the PSC stall at this time.

“I unequivocally condemn the terrorist actions of Hamas and support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Tory chairman Greg Hands questioned when Sir Keir Starmer will “take action” against “those who use the offensive ‘apartheid’ term in relation to Israel”.

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