War in the Middle East could act as a ‘recruiting sergeant’ for extremists and terrorists in Birmingham according to city councillors.
The claim was made in a statement put to the council condemning the conflict in Gaza and calling for the government to allow a local authority boycott of Israeli-supporting companies.
City leaders agreed to hold a debate on Gaza at the start of their monthly council meeting – but hopes a joint-statement from all sides could be signed were dashed as the ruling Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition and opposition Labour groups failed to agree on wording.
More than 200 anti-Israel protesters gathered in Victoria Square to demand a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
The crowd chanted and cheered as a string of speakers, mainly inner-city Muslim councillors, called for strong action against Israel by the British government and European Union.
It was a rowdy meeting, fuelled by inflammatory speeches, but fears the demonstration could turn violent proved unfounded as it broke up for the city council meeting.
A statement put to the council, signed by Respect’s Salma Yaqoob, Liberal Democrat Tariq Khan, Labour’s Tahir Ali and Conservative James Hutchings, deplored the humanitarian crisis.
It also warned: “The war in the Middle East has the potential to act as a recruiting sergeant in Birmingham and elsewhere for those who seek to exploit the plight of Palestinians and increase the risk to Birmingham citizens of terrorist attacks.”
And he called for the council to lobby government to allow Birmingham, as the largest local authority in Europe, to boycott goods and services from countries, such as Israel, they say flout UN resolutions.
While all sides agreed on condemning the crisis, calling for an immediate ceasefire, peace talks and concerned divisions might impact on Birmingham community relations they could not agree on further action or whether to hold the debate in the first place.
It received support from the Labour, Respect and Liberal Democrat benches, all of which have a significant number of Muslim councillors or members who represent large Muslim communities, the Conservative side was less keen, with a handful of Tories walking out.
Conservative James Hutchings said he felt the debate was important because people in Birmingham are concerned about Gaza.
“We are rightly very concerned about the impact on community relations here,” he added.
Coun Yaqoob (Respect, Sparkbrook) said: “The time for simple hand-wringing and ineffectual statements is over, it is time for action.”
Coun Ali (Labour, Nechells) added he was personally boycotting firms and companies which trade with Israel and thought the council should do the same.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Tariq Khan (Washwood Heath) asked how “The victims of 60 years ago have now gone full circle and are now the aggressors.”
But the more inflammatory speakers drew a rebuke from the Conservative cabinet member responsible for community relations Coun Alan Rudge (Sutton Vesey).
“This situation must not be allowed to damage the good work which has been done. I will hold them personally responsible if they damage our community cohesion because of this,” he said.