August 5, 2014
The fighting in Gaza claimed an unexpected casualty among the British political elite on Tuesday when Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in the British cabinet, resigned, saying the government’s “approach and language” in the crisis had been “morally indefensible.”
The broadside took aim at Prime Minister David Cameron’s refusal to join a chorus of British critics who have labeled Israel’s bombardment of Gaza disproportionate and an outrage. Her decision widened fissures within the coalition government and between the government and leading British Muslims, reflecting the emotional impact of the Gaza conflict, which has been relayed in graphic images on television and social media.
The resignation “reflects the unease and anxiety in Parliament and in the country about the U.K. government’s present position” on the conflict, said Sir Menzies Campbell, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the governing coalition.
Not only that, there were signs of division within Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party. Nicholas Soames, a Conservative lawmaker and former minister, said on Twitter: “The government needs to note and learn from the resignation of Sayeeda Warsi she was right to leave over a matter of such great importance.”
But George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer who is close to Mr. Cameron, called her action “disappointing and frankly unnecessary.”
Shuja Shafi, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, the biggest Muslim umbrella grouping, said Ms. Warsi had taken a “principled stand” and had “spoken on behalf of humanity.”
Ms. Warsi, 43, a lawyer and the daughter of an immigrant textile worker from Pakistan, had been a member of Mr. Cameron’s cabinet since 2010 and had been seen as a political bridge to the country’s Muslim minority.
In her resignation letter, Ms. Warsi said, “My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East peace process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long-term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”
She wrote: “I must be able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported. By staying in government at this time I do not feel that I can be sure of that.”
She announced her decision on the same day as a cease-fire came into force in Gaza.
Mr. Cameron, who has been accused by the opposition Labour Party of being too cautious on the Gaza crisis, was on vacation when news of the resignation broke. In a letter to Ms. Warsi released by his office, he said he regretted her departure and realized “that this must not have been an easy decision for you to make.”
“I understand your strength of feeling on the current crisis in the Middle East — the situation in Gaza is intolerable. Our policy has always been consistently clear: We support a negotiated two-state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace,” Mr. Cameron said.
“Of course, we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself,” the letter said. “But we have consistently made clear our grave concerns about the heavy toll of civilian casualties and have called on Israel to exercise restraint, and to find ways to bring this fighting to an end.”
On Monday, in commenting on the crisis in Gaza, Mr. Cameron pointedly declined to echo the assessment of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, who called an attack on a United Nations school in Gaza a “moral outrage and a criminal act.”
Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition, called on Mr. Cameron to change his approach. “He needs to come out much more clearly and say that Israel’s actions are just wrong and can’t be defended and can’t be justified,” he said. Ms. Warsi, by contrast, acted with “principle and integrity,” Mr. Miliband said.
Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he had “never been ambiguous” in his condemnation of the bombing of United Nations schools in Gaza as “a complete outrage.”
“Clearly the prime minister and I have taken different views on this,” he said, referring to Israel’s actions in Gaza. “We always have done.”
Some analysts said that the resignation also reflected Ms. Warsi’s unhappiness with a major reorganization of the government ordered by Mr. Cameron last month, in which she was not restored to a higher office.
The resignation stirred passions as people in Britain — political leaders, members of the royalty and citizens — began what are expected to be lengthy commemorations of the centenary of World War I, which the country entered on Aug. 4, 1914. Ceremonies to commeorate the occasion on Monday were characterized by broad consensus among the country’s political adversaries.
Ms. Warsi’s resignation recalled the days in 2003 when two senior figures stepped down to protest Britain’s participation in the United States-led invasion of Iraq.