Coventry South MP, Zarah Sultana, was one of 56 Labour parliamentarians who broke the party line on 15 November by voting in favour of a motion advocating for an “immediate” ceasefire in Gaza.
The motion was tabled by the Scottish National Party as an amendment to the King’s Speech, which outlines the government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead. It was subsequently defeated in the Commons by 290 votes to 183. Conservative MPs were instructed to vote against the motion, whilst Labour MPs were told to abstain.
The decision came a month into Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip, during which time over 11,000 Palestinians had been killed, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
So long as our government refuses to support an immediate ceasefire, it … is refusing to push back against Israeli politicians and policies seeking to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their lands
Zarah Sultana, Member of Parliament for Coventry South
In an article published ahead of the vote, Ms Sultana explained her position, stating: “So long as our government refuses to support an immediate ceasefire, it … is refusing to push back against Israeli politicians and policies seeking to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their lands.”
Ms Sultana was the only MP in Coventry or Warwickshire to support a ceasefire.
Other parliamentarians to back the amendment included the high-profile MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, who stood down as Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding after Labour officials confirmed that any Labour minister that defied the whip and voted for the motion would be sacked.
Labour leader, Keir Starmer, argued that a ceasefire would be ineffective, serving only to ‘embolden’ Hamas to launch a further attack
Addressing his opposition to the motion, Labour leader Keir Starmer argued that a ceasefire would be ineffective, serving only to “embolden” Hamas to launch a further attack. In lieu of this, he encouraged MPs to instead vote for a motion supporting a “humanitarian pause”, which would allow for the provision of aid to Gaza and for the release of hostages, without requiring the declaration of an end to the conflict.
The idea of a “humanitarian pause” as the preferable alternative, previously posited by the Biden Administration in the US, was shared by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The idea garnered significant criticism within the Labour Party in particular, including from Ms Sultana, who suggested that “there is nothing humanitarian about allowing children to eat a little today, only to bomb them tomorrow”.
The motion was defeated in Parliament by a margin of 290-183.
Israel announced a four-day “operational pause” in the conflict on 22 November – as part of a truce agreement between Hamas and Israel, the former has released Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinians from Israeli prisons.