Euan McColm: Sir Keir Starmer is right to resist anti-Israel sentiment and remain firm on ceasefire calls

Calls for a ceasefire may seem straightforward but the reality of Hamas means any laying down of arms would be one-sided
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Peter Nicholls/Getty ImagesLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Peter Nicholls/Getty Images
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Peter Nicholls/Getty Images

Pressure is mounting on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to join those calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East.

A month after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel from Gaza, torturing, raping and murdering more than 1,400 people and taking 200 hostages, growing numbers of Labour members are urging their leader to change his stance, which is that Israel has the right to defend itself. Shadow ministers have broken ranks with Starmer to call for an end to military action. On Friday, two Labour council leaders in England demanded their party leader’s resignation.

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Anyone watching the devastating footage from within Gaza, where bombs have claimed lives and destroyed infrastructure surely wishes that such distressing events were not taking place. Who wouldn’t join calls for a ceasefire?

But what would a ceasefire look like? Would it create the breathing space for a diplomatic approach to the Israel-Palestine situation? Would it be a first step towards a lasting peace?

It would do neither of these things. There can be no diplomacy with Hamas, no lasting peace while it continues to exist.

If those criticising Starmer truly wanted a ceasefire, they would be directing their demands towards the Hamas government in Gaza, for if there is to be a swift end to fighting, it will come only with the complete surrender of Hamas or with the organisation’s destruction.

To demand a ceasefire now is to demand Israel forfeits its right to defend itself. Hamas, after all, has no intention of stopping its mission of eradicating Jews.

More than 40 year ago, the former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said that if Israel’s enemies downed arms, there would be peace but that if Israel downed arms, there would be a massacre.

She was right, then, and the truth she spoke endures to this day. What more proof of this do we need?

If Israel stops its efforts to free hostages and end Hamas as a viable force, the terrorists will come roaring back.

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We know this because Hamas has told the world as much. Spokesmen for the organisation are perfectly clear that they will not stop while a single Jew remains alive.

Many in Labour – and across the wider left – choose not to discuss the implications of their ceasefire demands.

Instead, they march in solidarity with Palestinians, painting Israel as the aggressor and its enemies as victims. They call on Israel to lay down arms, rarely mentioning the hostages – many children and babies – currently being held by Hamas. And, crucially, they ignore or excuse the displays of naked antisemitism that we’ve seen from some protestors.

We have, in recent weeks, witnessed deeply disturbing attacks on Jews around the world. Children attending Jewish schools in the UK have been advised to stop wearing anything that might identify their faith. Posters showing the faces of Israeli hostages have been defaced or torn down. In the US, Jewish students have been harassed and threatened on campuses for no reason other than their identities.

Meanwhile, cosplaying revolutionaries of the militant left attack Israel for having the audacity to refuse to roll over.

Yes, the scenes in Gaza are upsetting but so, too, were the scenes in Israel on October 7 when innocents were brutalised by sadistic murderers.

If you can watch footage of Hamas terrorists parading the bodies of young women – gang-raped before their murders – like trophies and not begin to understand why Israel feels the need to act swiftly, decisively and relentlessly, then you have a stronger stomach than I.

Starmer’s refusal to bow to pressure from some in his party is to his credit, If anyone needed proof that Labour has fundamentally changed from the days of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn – you know, the crank who once referred to members of Hamas as friends – then here it is.

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The murderous cowards of Hamas have the blood of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims on their hands. They use the people of Gaza as human shields, hiding among them, storing military equipment near schools and hospitals. And then, when Israel takes out that artillery, they scream of war crimes. And those cries are amplified by the useful idiots of the Western left.

Starmer has called for a “humanitarian pause” in military action to allow the delivery of aid. This seems sensible and proportionate. It is not his place to go further.

It has been difficult in recent weeks to escape the depressing conclusion that, so far as many who consider themselves to be enlightened and progressive are concerned, Jewish suffering is somehow lesser to the suffering of others.

The Hamas attacks of October 7 were still ongoing when commentators began to question whether Israel’s response would be proportionate. In the days that followed, “information” supplied by Hamas officials was reported as fact by major broadcasters when it was, in fact, not true. The bombing of a hospital, for example, was initially reported – on the say so of Hamas – as an act of Israeli aggression. It later emerged that the missile which had fallen on the facility was launched by Islamists.

Those now calling for a ceasefire should unite behind perfectly reasonable demands: They should call for the immediate release of all kidnapped hostages, the complete surrender and immediate disarmament of Hamas, and the handing over of every terrorist who participated in the massacres of October 7 so that they may face justice.

Unless those steps are agreed, there can be no compromise with Hamas.

If we believe in the right of Israel to exist, then we must, surely, believe in its right to defend itself.