What's it like, right now, to be an MP in an area with a large Jewish and Muslim population?

The atrocities inflicted on Israel by Hamas on October 7th when they decapitated babies, raped women and murdered 1400 people provoked an immediate response. Israel declared that to ensure its future defence it would have to eliminate Hamas. 

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched an attack on Gaza. Estimates are contested but it seems to date that 8000 Palestinian fighters and 17,000 civilians, more than half of them children, have been killed. 

This horrific slaughter in Gaza is having an impact here in Manchester. Both the Jewish community and the larger Muslim community I represent as the Member of Parliament for Blackley and Broughton are angry and frightened. 

This horrific slaughter in Gaza is having an impact here in Manchester

The Community Security Trust (CST) which monitors antisemitic incidents has estimated that attacks on Jews have increased by up to 1000%. There has been a corresponding but smaller increase of attacks on Muslims, particularly women in traditional dress. 

These two communities have expressed strong and seemingly irreconcilable views on what the government and the Labour Party should do and say about this conflict. I have received more than 4000 emails not just from Muslims and Jews but from many other constituents who are sickened by the increasing destruction and death toll. 

It is vital that the barbarity in the Middle East does not destroy what are essentially good relations between the different communities in Manchester. Hate must not win! To that end, I have had formal and informal meetings with both communities. I attended the Say No to Antisemitism demonstration to make it clear that no form of racism is acceptable in Manchester. 

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Pro-Palestinian protest outside Central Library Image: Confidentials

Manchester MPs have been in touch with the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester to ask that the police be extra vigilant about any increase in violence against Jews and Muslims. There is also concern not just from the leadership of the Muslim community that there could be an increase in radicalisation of people who have returned to Manchester having fought in Gaza. Again, the police need to be aware and vigilant. 

Many of the comments and emails have expressed in unambiguous terms that there should be an immediate and permanent ceasefire. I understand the compassion and humanitarian instincts that lead to this demand, but I believe it is unlikely to be an effective path to peace and if the objective is to influence Israel, counterproductiveSelf-evidently ceasefires require the agreement of both sides. Israel would believe this is just an attempt to prohibit their self-defence, they are unlikely to agree. 

Many people have pointed out there was, although imperfect, a ceasefire before October 7th. There needs to be an immediate pause in the fighting in order that humanitarian aid can reach the desperate Palestinians and the return of the 130 hostages still held by Hamas. 

To achieve this will be difficult but what then? A credible and achievable series of steps to a two-state solution needs to be re-established with security for Israel and justice for the Palestinians. This policy has been turned into a chimera but without a serious belief by all parties that this is possible continuing war is inevitable.   

If Arab countries care about Palestinians, they might be better spending billions on them rather than football clubs

The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has long been a major obstacle to the road to peace. He has given full authority to the expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank, opposed the peace and normalisation initiatives of the Oslo and Abraham Accords as well as failing to ensure the security of his own country. 

There are clear indications that some of his war initiatives are in his own personal interests not those of the people he represents. He is taking advantage of war as a major diversion from his serious political and legal problems. He’s charged with breach of trust, fraud and taking bribes. A general election should be held as soon as possible where the electorate can throw him out and let him face justice. 

As bad as Netanyahu is he is not to be equated with Hamas who stated objective is to kill all Jews and eliminate Israel i.e. genocide.  Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel must be removed. 

One of the reasons Hamas carried out their pogrom on October 7th was because they feared that an improvement in relations between Israel and several Arab states would reduce their influence. 

2024 02 02 Graham Stringer Article
Protest about anti-semitism and against the October 7th attack Image: Confidentials

To be a friend of Israel necessitates opposing Netanyahu. To be a friend of the Palestinians necessitates freeing them from Hamas who are their oppressors not their protectors. 

Hamas knew when they attacked Israel there would be an asymmetric response. One of their objectives was to refocus world attention and sympathy. This explains why they occupied and fought from schools and hospitals making the maiming and deaths of children and non-combatant Palestinians inevitable. This of course would never excuse indiscriminate bombing and shelling. 

If one really wants to solve what looks like an insoluble problem really difficult decisions must be taken requiring huge amounts of political will and money. Demanding a permanent ceasefire now is a cliché not a solution. 

If Arab countries care about Palestinians, they might be better spending billions on them rather than football clubs and if the United States wants to get out of the Middle East it is better to spend money on peace initiatives rather than weapons.

Graham Stringer is an occasional columnist for Manchester Confidential. He is the Labour Member of Parliament for Blackley and Broughton with a majority of 14,402 after the 2019 General Election. He was elected to Parliament in 1997. Until 1999 he was on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs select committee, then was a Labour Government whip and subsequently a member of the Transport Select Committee in the last years of Labour Government. Prior to parliament he was the Leader of Manchester City Council from 1984-1996. He is credited for being a principal agent in the return of city confidence and Manchester's regeneration.

Graham Stringer

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