GAZA CONFLICT: Council chamber in uproar as Labour members try to debate Israel-Hamas war

Speaker of the council Councillor Jahed Choudhury trying to curtail Asma Islam’s speech about Gaza. Pic: Tower Hamlet’s Council

By Harry Merrell and Pius Bentgens

A Tower Hamlets council meeting collapsed into disorder last night amid disputes between councillors and officials over a debate on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Rows and recriminations between councillors leds to shouts from the public gallery of “shameful” and: “You think we are in Russia. We can’t talk about Palestine”. 

At the start of the meeting, Councillor Jahed Choudhury, the speaker of the council had led a minute’s silence and then said: “I am not allowing any speaker to make a statement on Gaza”. 

However, despite the plea, Labour councillors, led by group leader Councillor Sirajul Islam, put forward a motion for a debate on the conflict only to see it rejected on procedural grounds by council officers

This led to Mayor Lutfur Rahman calling the propsed motion “embarrassing” for the council because the Labour Party nationally had failed to call for a ceasefire on the crisis, which was debated in the House of Commons earlier in the evening.

When a number of Labour councillors attempted to speak about the conflict when the meeting was debating other issues, they were warned by Janet Fasan, Director of Legal Services to “keep to your scripts.” She warned them not to stray away from the local issues under discussion.

Labour councillor Asma Islam was threatened with ejection by the Speaker of the Council for raising her concerns in the meeting. Speaking to ELL after the meeting she said: “how else are we are we allowed to voice our opinions and help echo the voices that need to be heard?”.

One Labour Councillor, Asma Begum was unable to share her views in the chamber, instead she posted on X to share her whole speech: 

Labour councillor for Stepney Green, Sabina Akhtar said: “We are really disappointed that we can’t speak or participate on this debate as our residents expect us to be on the right side of humanity”. 

A number of councillors on both sides of the chamber were wearing Palestine iconography, including a Palestinian flag which was hanging from the desk on the Labour Group. 

However Councillor Mufeedah Bustin said: “There has been enough conflict in this chamber, enough conflict in the news and enough conflict in the world”. 

Aspire councillors in the meeting on Tuesday. Pic: Pius Bentgens

In his Mayoral statement, Lutfur Rahman called for a ceasefire and highlighted the need for strong community ties especially in the context of the conflict. 

“We must double our efforts, working with community and faith partners, to ensure it [Tower Hamlets] remains our residents feel safe in. The massacre must stop”. 

Tower Hamlets Labour Group were the first council group to write a letter to the leader of the party, Sir Keir Starmer, calling for an immediate ceasefire.  

During the meeting, one Coucillor, Abdal Ullah, put up his hands and called for a “ceasefire” – an apparent reference to the conflict in the chamber, not the Gaza crisis. This prompted a retort from a man in the public gallery who shouted: “Do not use ceasefire in vain. We did not come here from the public to see this nonsense”. 

The man was then asked to stop shouting by security but responded: “I’m not causing offence, he is offending me”. 

A council officer asks a man in the public gallery to stop disturbing the meeting. Pic: Pius Bentgens

After the meeting, the man who refused to give his identity told EastLondonLines: “That was shocking and that standard of rhetoric and language should not be allowed in any council chamber, especially recognising the context that we’re in, where there’s a humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, and one which needs smart political solutions to end the violence once and for all. That level of comment is not and should not be tolerated.”  

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