LEICESTER, United Kingdom – The biggest surprise coming from Britain’s July 4 national election was not the stellar victory of the Labour Party – which had been in the cards since the election was called six weeks ago – but who didn’t get back in office.

My local Member of Parliament, Jonathan Ashworth MP, lost a close vote to independent candidate Shockat Adam.

Adam secured 14,739 votes, beating Ashworth’s 13,760 votes – a very slim margin.

Ashworth wasn’t a small fish. He had been in office since 2011, after he replaced Peter Soulsby, the Labour Party member who had served since 2005. South Leicester was considered a safe seat for him – in 2019, he won 67 percent of the vote.

Why did he lose to an independent candidate, and why is this vote important? One word: Gaza.

The Israeli war against Hamas – which runs the Gaza territory – is being closely watched by Britain’s Muslim community.

Before his election, Adam explained why he was running.

“The Palestinian cause is very close to the community’s heart yet when they needed a loud and clear and distinct voice it was lacking,” he told Middle East Eye last month. “How can we stand by when we are seeing massacre upon massacre?”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who is the new Prime Minister – actively countered what many people viewed as anti-Semitic views held in the party when it was under his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

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Corbyn was from the left-wing of the party, and led the party from 2015-2020, and was a longtime advocate of Palestinian statehood. (He was expelled from the party by Starmer this year, but the former leader was still re-elected as an Independent.)

Starmer’s efforts to build relations with the Jewish people hit a snag last year.

Israel began the war with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, killing 1,200 Israelis and taking over 200 more as hostages.

The conflict has been violent, killing an estimated 38,000 Palestinians, and causing outrage among the international Islamic world.

Muslims make up around six percent of the British population, and Leicester has an Islamic population of nearly 24 percent.

“We as a city are a shining example to the rest of the world that it is the people that matter, not those that rule over,” Adam said after his election as MP of Leicester South.

“This is for the people of Gaza,” he added, putting on the Palestinian scarf known as the keffiyeh.

Ashworth wasn’t the only Labour candidate affected – the party lost five seats with large Muslim populations, with four going to Independents and one going to the Conservatives, after the Labour candidate lost votes to Independent rivals.

And this isn’t just a Muslim issue. Although Israel receives strong support from the Christian community in the United States, Christian leaders in Europe and Middle East have been strongly opposed to the conflict in Gaza.

Pope Francis has been calling for an immediate ceasefire for months, saying, “Enough, please!”

A statement from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Holy Land, which is sponsored by the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, bringing together the Latin, Greek Melkite, Maronite, Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean Catholic leadership of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus questioned Israel calling its conflict in Gaza a just war.

“There are those pretending that the war follows the rules of ‘proportionality’ by arguing that a war that continues until the bitter end might save the lives of Israelis in the future, therefore balancing the scales of the thousands of Palestinian lives being lost in the present,” the statement says. “In doing so, they privilege the security of hypothetical people in the future over the lives of living and breathing human beings who are being killed every day.”

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The Church of England – the official established church of the country – has longed called for an immediate ceasefire, saying the “relentless bombardment of Gaza and its huge cost in civilian lives and civilian infrastructure must stop.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will not end the war until Hamas’s capacity to attack Israel is destroyed – a condition that has limited the possibility of a ceasefire.

The Israeli leader has relied on the support of its allies in the United States and Europe – but the ongoing deadly conflict in Gaza is fraying these ties.

Since the attack on Gaza began, diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine has been made by the European countries of Norway, Spain, and Slovenia.

As political parties in other countries look at how the ongoing conflict is influencing elections – even in traditional Israeli supporters like the United Kingdom – the support for Palestine will grow stronger, and the Israeli government will face further international problems.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome