British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden faced backlash for appearing to laugh during Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s remarks about the war between Israel and Hamas.
On October 7, Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian attack on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest-ever airstrikes against Gaza. The Associated Press reported that as of Monday afternoon, at least 1,400 people in Israel and at least 2,778 people in Gaza have been killed since the fighting erupted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is “at war” and cut off supplies of food, fuel, electricity and medicine into Gaza. He has vowed to “demolish Hamas,” ordering 1.1 million people in northern Gaza to relocate to the south.
Sunak on Monday addressed the crisis before the House of Commons, calling for a “better future” for both Israelis and Palestinians.
“We can’t lose sight of the better future that we strive for, and indeed my conversations with leaders have already been thinking about that. It’s something I raised with the prime minister of Israel as well. We all want that better future for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and hopefully, out of this tragedy, we will find a way to move closer toward it,” Sunak said.
A clip of his speech went viral on social media after observers noticed Shapps and Dowden appearing to laugh in the background of the speech, with many criticizing them for doing so during a speech about such a serious situation.
Newsweek reached out to the British Ministry of Defense and Oliver Dowden’s office for comment via email.
The moment was viewed more than 260,000 times on X, formerly Twitter, by early Monday afternoon.
“Grant Shapps(Defence Secretary) & Oliver Dowden(Deputy PM) having a good chuckle during the Israel & Gaza statement,” wrote @Haggis_UK, a news account that was the first to post the video.
“Omg @Conservatives @RishiSunak @OliverDowden @grantshapps this is absolutely appalling – what is the matter with you all,” responded one critic, @ProDentalCPD.
“What can they possibly be laughing about at such a time. WHAT@grantshapps @oliverdowden ?????????” wrote X user @KeithRandall10.
Another X user, Robbie Scrowls posted: “What was so funny about the tragedy playing out in the Middle East that couldn’t wait half an hour to discuss at playtime?”
“This is not only embarrassingly insensitive and utterly insulting to both Israelis and Palestinians, it is also a reflection of the total lack of respect the Conservative party has for its leader,” @SpaJw posted.
Sunak has voiced support for Israel amid the conflict, saying that Israel has the United Kingdom’s “unqualified support” and the right to defend itself against the attack. He has also toed the line of urging Israel to minimize the effects of the war on the millions of civilians, including many children, who live in Gaza.
The prime minister has ordered the transfer of British military equipment to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to reinforce stability in the region, according to a press release. He also pledged to increase aid to the Palestinians by 10 million pounds, Reuters reported on Monday.
“We must support the Palestinian people because they are victims of Hamas too,” he said.