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Biden and Starmer will pay a heavy price for supporting Israel's war in Gaza

History is going to be a much harsher judge of those political leaders who justified and tolerated Israel's ethnic cleansing in Gaza
Protesters hold placards during a march from Chalk Farm to Camden Town, in London, on 18 November, 2023 (AFP)

For the last four months, the West has watched Gaza being demolished block by block.

Residential districts have been razed, universities, hospitals, libraries blown up. Families, which form the pillars of society, have been exterminated in their homes where they gathered en masse. 

The ranks of the middle class - doctors, journalists, academics, businessmen - decimated. Aid convoys have been bombed. The hungry queueing for food, or those simply trying to flee on foot, executed by snipers. 

These scenes of devastation are reminiscent of the worst crimes of the Second World War.

Tearing up a Hamas offer to halt the fighting and get his remaining hostages out alive, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed this week to pursue victory to the bitter end. 

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Rafah, which has become the last refuge, is set to become the next target. And yet four months on, this industrial scale operation has no difficulty in finding backers among those who identify themselves as liberals.

Justifying war

After a national tribute was organised for the French victims of the Hamas attack on 7 October, former French President Francois Hollande was asked whether French victims of Israel in Gaza do not deserve the same. 

"It cannot be the same tribute," said Hollande. "A life is a life and one life is equivalent to another, but there are victims of terrorism and victims of war. Being a victim of terrorism means being attacked as a French person or as a defender of a way of life. A collateral victim, you are in a war [...], it's not of the same nature," he added.

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Three times Pulitzer Prize winner, columnist Tom Friedman justified the US and Israel setting fire to "the jungle" in the following words.

"Iran is to geopolitics what a recently discovered species of parasitoid wasp is to nature. What does this parasitoid wasp do? According to Science Daily, the wasp "injects its eggs into live caterpillars, and the baby wasp larvae slowly eat the caterpillar from the inside out, bursting out once they have eaten their fill."

Neither Biden nor Starmer sees the danger they are in over Gaza. But then neither did Bush or Blair when they invaded Iraq

"Is there a better description of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq today? They are the caterpillars. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the wasp.

"The Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas and Kataib Hezbollah are the eggs that hatch inside the host - Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq - and eat it from the inside out. We have no counter-strategy that safely and efficiently kills the wasp without setting fire to the whole jungle."

The idea of Jews being parasites dates back to the Age of Enlightenment, but it was reprised by the Nazis in Germany and Austria. A Nazi poster likening Jews to lice who cause typhus is exhibited in the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Friedman would do well to pay it a visit, as indeed would the New York Times editor who put his piece up.

Hollande and Friedman are at the end of their careers. But US President Joe Biden and the Labour leader Keir Starmer aren’t. Both face an election this year. 

An electoral liability

Biden and Starmer's insouciance about the dangers that supporting Israel's campaign in Gaza could create for them is bizarre because each man prizes power above principle. They are shameless promise breakers.

One might have expected them to be more cautious before following Israel down the path of historical ignominy. Because every day this war continues, Netanyahu is looking less and less like the man to put your money on. 

Israel’s campaign in Gaza is becoming an electoral liability, precisely because it is now in its fifth month and shows no sign of stopping.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein stopped being an easy show of force for the US army the moment the Iraqi resistance started.

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And yet two decades after George Bush and Tony Blair committed their career-defining error of invading Iraq, which cast a shadow neither man has been able to walk away from, Biden and Starmer are staging a repeat performance.

If the moment Blair sacrificed the trust of the nation was the "dodgy dossier" over Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the end of Starmer’s reputation with British Muslims came in what should have been a routine LBC interview.

Nick Ferrari asked Starmer whether Israel had the right to cut off power and water to Gaza. Starmer replied: "I think Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation. Obviously everything should be done within international law but I don't want to step away from the core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility."

He quickly rowed back that remark, but that was the watershed moment.

Biden’s watershed moment came when he appeared to doubt the death toll produced by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. "I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed," Biden said, directly contradicting the assessment of the UN and international human rights agencies that their figures were reliable.

"We continue to include their data in our reporting and it is clearly sourced," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement to Reuters

Both statements tipped the scale of public opinion and had a devastating effect on Muslim voters on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Losing the Muslim vote

A poll released on Monday showed a dramatic fall in support for Labour from British Muslims. 

Data collected by Survation, commissioned by the Labour Muslim Network (LMN), showed that 60 percent of British Muslims who expressed a preference for a party said they would vote Labour. That represents a drop of 26 percent of Muslims previously polled in 2019. Only 43 percent said they would definitely vote Labour again, with 23 percent undecided.

Identification with Labour is down from 72 percent in 2021, to 49 percent in 2024 - with 38 percent of British Muslims stating they had a more unfavourable view of the Labour Party following the past 12 months. Starmer’s personal rating is -11 percent.

Support for Labour among Muslims has been steadily declining since the 2019 election, but the turning point into rapid decline came in November, a month into the Gaza war. In four months support for the party has plummeted from 70 to 40 percent.

Starmer’s instinct has been to double down. Shortly after his LBC debacle, he warned all elected representatives not to attend ceasefire protests. When Starmer’s refusal to call for a ceasefire was put to a vote, several members of his shadow cabinet resigned.

Since then more than 70 Labour councillors have resigned in areas like Oxford, Burnley, Hastings and Norwich. Resignations and expulsions of the anti-zionist left from the party are now producing a blowback. 

The marginal seats of two frontbenchers - Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, and Rushnara Ali, shadow minister for investment - are threatened, as well as the seats of John Ashworth in Leicester and the late Tony Lloyd's Rochdale seat, where a byelection is happening later this month. They could all be flipped by a Muslim vote which is greater than the Labour majority.

No one is under any illusion that the Muslim vote could stop Starmer coming to power. But it could make the difference between a Blair-style landslide and a minority government

Thirty six other seats including that of Margaret Hodge, who called the previous labour leader Jeremy Corbyn "a fucking antisemite and a racist" could be turned into marginals.

Grassroots groups are shooting up all over the place with thousands of volunteers ready to support independent candidates.

One group called The Muslim Vote (TMV) said that it will support independent candidates with resources, networks, volunteers and funding in constituencies where it thinks it has an audience.

An independent candidate could well stand in Starmer’s own constituency. A young British-Palestinian candidate, Leanne Mohamed, has already been found to challenge Streeting in Ilford North. 

The Redbridge Community Action Group who proposed her vowed to put forward a candidate that would be "strong on Palestine, NHS, racism, Islamophobia and the cost of living crisis".

This represents a potent fusion of Gaza and the agenda of the pre-Starmer Labour Party. All of which highly ambitious apparatchiks like Streeting are vulnerable on. Streeting himself is conscious of the danger he is in, and has started mouthing platitudes about the importance of a Palestinian state. Streeting refused to call for a ceasefire.

No one is under any illusion that the Muslim vote could stop Starmer coming to power, but it could make the difference between a Blair-style landslide and a minority government.

'Abandon Biden'

Biden is most vulnerable in Michigan. When faced with the mounting anger of a substantial Arab and Muslim population, the response of his campaign team was very similar to Starmer’s: to write Arabs off and find other paths to victory.

As Politico reported: "Biden’s support for Israel has hurt the campaign badly with the sizeable Arab-American population in Michigan, and his team is scrambling to find other paths to victory in the battleground state, according to two campaign advisers granted anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about strategy."

Dearborn has the highest concentration of Arab Americans. It has become the epicentre of a national campaign against Biden’s reelection. As night follows day, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal dubbed Dearborn as "America’s Jihad Capital". The local police presence has been ramped up as a result. 

We can expect the same smears to start appearing in the British right-wing media.

Protestors rally for a Cease Fire in Gaza outside a UAW union hall during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden in Warren Michigan, U.S. February 1, 2024. REUTERS
Protestors rally for a Cease Fire in Gaza outside a UAW union hall during a visit by US President Joe Biden in Warren Michigan on 1 February, 2024 (Reuters)

Activists from Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania have created an AbandonBiden campaign, six of them battleground states. 

"We’re looking into finding ways to build a mechanism of coordination between all the swing states so that we’re constantly working together to ensure that Muslim Americans will come out in all of these states, and that Mr. Biden will lose each and every one of them,” said Hassan Abdel Salam, a professor at the University of Minnesota and a member of the #AbandonBiden National Coalition. "Right behind me, what Mr Biden should see is 111 electoral votes. And he won last time with 74."

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Abandon Biden even if the victor of that campaign should be Donald Trump, the nemesis of Muslims? 

Well apparently yes. A new generation is on the march to change the face of the Democratic Party permanently. "We don't have two options. We have many options," Jaylani Hussein, director of Minnesota's Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter, said in Dearborn, Michigan, when asked about alternatives to Biden. 

US Muslims don't expect to be treated better than the disdain - disrespect is a better word  - they are getting under Biden, but if Biden is reelected, the vote in November is their only chance to reshape US policy. 

Biden won Michigan by 2.8 percent points and Arabs account for five percent of the vote. Dearborn’s first Arab mayor, Abdullah Hammoud, is extremely clear about what he wants Biden to do.

"There has never been a war in history in which 80 percent of the country is absolutely decimated, where 100 per cent of the population has been displaced and where 50 percent of all deaths are children. That has never happened.

"For us, we want action not lip service. If President Biden wants to take a firm stance he can begin by restricting military aid to the state of Israel. He could begin by calling for a ceasefire because right now nearly 200 civilians  are killed each and every single day. These are tangible steps that can be taken because what we understand is only diplomatic efforts can lead to lasting peace and justice."

We can be sure of one thing. History is going to be a much harsher judge of those political leaders who justified and tolerated the ethnic cleansing now going on in Gaza.

Biden and Starmer’s refusal to call for a ceasefire and their refusal to back the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel should take steps to comply with the Genocide Convention, will produce an indelible stain on their careers.

Neither man sees the danger they are in over Gaza. But then neither did Bush or Blair when they invaded Iraq.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian's foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast. He joined the Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.
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