Who is the UK’s new ‘pro-Palestine’ Justice Minister?

Mahmood received criticism from pro-Palestine activists for abstaining in the ceasefire vote in November [GETTY]

British Member of Parliament and barrister Shabana Mahmood was appointed as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice by newly elected Labour Prime Minister Keir Starmer.

While having a history of supporting Palestine, the Member of Parliament has faced critiques from pro-Palestine activists in the past.

The New Arab looks into who Shabana Mahmood is and where exactly she stands on Palestine and Israel’s war on Gaza?

Who is Shabana Mahmood?

Mahmood has been an MP for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010. She was reelected in the 2024 elections after beating pro-Palestine and independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob by under 3,500 votes.

She is the first female Muslim minister and became one of the UK’s first female Muslim MPs, along with Rushanara Ali and Yasmin Qureshi.

She has served as Shadow Minister for Prisons, Shadow Minister for Higher Education,  as well as Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

Pro-Palestine stance

Mahmood asserts she is “and always has been, a passionate and determined supporter of Palestinian rights” and is a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.

Since 2010, the MP has attended pro-Palestine events, called for a recognition of Palestinian statehood, been vocal on Israeli annexation plans and Palestinian rights, and even condemned the 2010 Israeli attack on the Turkish flotilla carrying aid into Gaza.

In 2014, she urged people to gather at a protest outside a Sainsbury’s store in Birmingham City Centre to support the BDS movement on X, while calling for a Free Palestine.

After 7 October, Mahmood denounced the Hamas attack and insisted that international law must be followed at all times by both the Palestinian group and Israel.

After Starmer’s concerning LBC interview where he asserted that Israel had the right to deprive Gazans of water and power, Mahmood said, “our position remains that international humanitarian law must be followed”, including access to food, water, medicines and electricity.

Why did pro-Palestine activists rally against her?

Despite signing and backing a motion for a ceasefire in Gaza in February, Mahmood was one of the 141 lawmakers who abstained from a ceasefire vote in November.

This led to a rally calling for no-confidence in the MP and the newly formed Never Forget Gaza Party aimed to field a candidate against her in the 2024 election.

A poster advertising a ceasefire rally against the MP circulated on social media and WhatsApp groups reading, “Bombs rain as you abstain”.

While it remains unclear why Mahmood abstained, she sent a letter to her constituency’s residents asserting her support for Palestine.

“I am also unequivocally clear that wars have laws, and democracies have the responsibility to ensure international humanitarian law is followed at all times. My position, as well as that of my party, has been that it is absolutely essential there is a clear distinction between a terrorist group and the innocent civilians of Gaza who have suffered for so long and do not deserve collective punishment,” the leader read.

“If we do not feel pain and distress at the loss of innocent lives – whether they’re Palestinian or Israeli, Muslim or Jewish – that is when we lose our humanity.”

Mahmood did face backlash from the Muslim community for abstaining and acknowledged that Labour had lost the backing of British Muslim voters over their pro-Israel stance on the war on Gaza.

However, despite this, independent pro-Gaza candidate Akhmed Yakoob pushed Mahmood all the way in the recent election, with her majority in the seat being dramatically slashed from 28,582 in 2019 to just 3,421 in 2024.


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