Lammy says bombing refugee camp can be legally justified if there is a military objective
David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, has sparked outrage and criticism for his remarks on the Israeli bombing of a refugee camp in Gaza. Lammy said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the attack was “wrong when it comes to the ethics”, but “if there is a military objective, can be legally justifiable”.
Lammy’s comments came as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) called for an immediate ceasefire, saying it was “a matter of life and death for millions of people”. UNRWA said that more than 200 Palestinians, including 61 children, have been killed by Israeli airstrikes since May 10, while 12 people, including two children, have died in Israel from rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.
Lammy’s stance has been condemned by human rights activists, Muslim groups, and some Labour councillors and members, who accused him of being complicit in war crimes and betraying the party’s values.
Lammy faces pressure from within Labour to change his position
Lammy’s position on Gaza has put him at odds with many of his Labour colleagues, who have urged the party leader Sir Keir Starmer to call for a ceasefire and condemn Israel’s disproportionate use of force. Starmer has also faced criticism for his pro-Israel stance, saying that Hamas would be “emboldened” by a ceasefire and that Israel had the right to defend itself.
More than 300 Labour councillors have signed a letter to Starmer, asking him to demand an end to the violence and support sanctions against Israel for its violations of international law. Nine Labour councillors have resigned from their posts in Oxford City Council over the party’s response to the Gaza crisis, leaving Labour without a majority.
Some Labour MPs have also spoken out against Lammy and Starmer, saying that their position was morally indefensible and politically damaging. Diane Abbott, a former shadow home secretary and ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, said that Lammy’s comments were “shameful” and that “there is no legal justification for bombing schools or hospitals or refugee camps”. Zarah Sultana, a rising star of the left-wing faction of Labour, said that “bombing civilians is never justifiable” and that “Labour must stand for justice and human rights, not repeat Israeli propaganda”.
Lammy loses support from Muslim voters and Jewish groups
Lammy’s comments on Gaza have also alienated him from many Muslim voters and Jewish groups, who have expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause and called for an end to the Israeli occupation. Lammy represents Tottenham, a diverse constituency with a large Muslim population, who have been protesting against Israel’s actions in Gaza and Jerusalem.
The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) tweeted that Lammy was “complicit in war crimes” and that his comments were “an insult to every Muslim in this country”. The MAB also mocked Lammy’s election campaign slogan, saying “Vote Labour, Get War Crimes”.
Some Jewish groups have also denounced Lammy’s remarks, saying that they did not represent their views or values. Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a pro-Palestinian group within the party, said that Lammy had “crossed a line” and that his position was “untenable”. JVL said that Lammy had ignored the fact that Israel was an occupying power that had no legal right to bomb Gaza. JVL also accused Lammy of ignoring the voices of many Jewish groups and individuals who supported a ceasefire and opposed Israel’s aggression.
Lammy defends his comments as consistent with international law
Lammy has defended his comments on Gaza, saying that he was not condoning or endorsing Israel’s actions, but rather stating a legal fact. Lammy said that he was appalled by the civilian deaths at the Jabalia refugee camp, but that he had to acknowledge that international law allowed for military action if there was a legitimate target.
Lammy said that he was following the advice of Daniel Bethlehem QC, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who wrote an article in The Times explaining the legal framework for assessing Israel’s conduct. Bethlehem said that Israel had to comply with three principles: necessity, proportionality, and distinction. He said that Israel had to show that its attacks were necessary to achieve a military objective, that they did not cause excessive harm to civilians or civilian objects, and that they distinguished between combatants and non-combatants.
Lammy said that he was not in a position to judge whether Israel had met these criteria, but that he had to respect the legal process. He said that he was calling on Israel to explain how its actions conformed to international law and how they qualified as proportionate. He said that he was also calling on Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel and to respect the human rights of its own people.
Lammy faces uncertain future as shadow foreign secretary
Lammy’s comments on Gaza have raised questions about his future as shadow foreign secretary, a role he assumed in May 2020. Lammy has been seen as a potential successor to Starmer, who has been struggling to revive Labour’s fortunes after a series of electoral defeats and internal divisions.
Lammy has been praised for his outspokenness and intelligence, as well as his personal story of overcoming adversity. Lammy grew up in a poor single-parent household in Tottenham, and went on to study at Harvard Law School and become a barrister. He has been an MP since 2000, and has campaigned on issues such as racism, homelessness, and Brexit.
However, Lammy’s comments on Gaza have damaged his reputation and credibility, especially among Labour’s core supporters and activists. Lammy has been accused of betraying his principles and values, as well as the party’s tradition of solidarity with oppressed peoples. Lammy has also been accused of being out of touch with public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports a ceasefire and condemns Israel’s actions.
Lammy may face a challenge to his position as shadow foreign secretary, either from within the shadow cabinet or from the party membership. Lammy may also face a backlash from his constituents, who may feel betrayed by his stance on Gaza. Lammy may have to rethink his strategy and tone if he wants to retain his role and ambition.