Labour’s Rochdale byelection campaign engulfed in antisemitism row – UK politics live | Politics


Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Key events

Louise Ellman has reacted to Azhar Ali’s remarks by saying that they were out of character for him, and saying that over a long period of time he had been an ally of her when she had been subjected to antisemitic attacks.

She said:

I have known Azhar for over twenty years and he consistently supported me when I was subjected to antisemitic attacks. He should now have the opportunity to work with the Jewish community to restore the loss of trust his actions have caused.

Ellman rejoined Labour after quitting over former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism.

Labour: Rochdale candidate had ‘fallen for a conspiracy theory’

Kevin Rawlinson

The Labour party’s shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Azhar Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory, and that his apology should be taken at face value.

“Councillor Ali has apologised unreservedly, he’s retracted those remarks, and he’s also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused, and the need now to do tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, which is going to be absolutely essential. So it’s for those reasons that he hasn’t been suspended.”

Mike Katz, the national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said his group would not campaign in Rochdale because Ali had “destroyed his past record of allyship with the Jewish community” with his “totally reprehensible” comments.

But he stopped short of calling on Labour to drop the candidate, warning that the “alternative in Rochdale is George Galloway”, whose victory would “harm the Jewish community far more than electing Ali”.

He added: “We know how far the party has come under Keir Starmer in tackling antisemitism and that the party, from Starmer down, is as shocked and disgusted by Ali’s comments as we are.”

You can read Kevin Rawlinson’s report here: Labour criticised for backing Rochdale candidate after ‘offensive’ Israel remark

Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Welcome and opening summary …

Good morning. I would say we were expecting a quiet week in UK politics with most of our institutions – including Andrew Sparrow – enjoying a half-term break, but there are significant political headwinds gathering for both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

Sunak faces the prospect of potentially losing two byelections in Kingswood and Wellingborough later this week. Before that his flagship Rwanda deportation plan faces scrutiny in the Lords this afternoon, inflation figures are due out midweek, and Thursday’s GDP figures might show the country has been in a recession. He is out campaigning in Yorkshire today, and will sit through a one hour grilling from voters on GB News at 8pm, which will be another test of how well he is likely to hold up in contact with the public during an election campaign.

It is the Rochdale byelection on 29 February that is giving Starmer a headache, with George Galloway threatening the party’s votes from the left with his uncompromising stand over Gaza and Palestine, while Labour try to work out how to handle comments by candidate Azhar Ali back in October suggesting that Israel might have let the Hamas attack happen on purpose in order to justify significant military intervention. Shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds has been having an uncomfortable time on the morning media round as a result.

Here are the headlines …

The Commons is in recess. The Lords is sitting from 2.30pm, and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will begin its committee stage there at 3,20pm. The Senedd and the Scottish parliament are not sitting. In Stormont there is a plenary session from noon.

It is Martin Belam here with you this week. I do try to read and dip into the comments when I can, but if you want to get my attention the best way is to email me – martin.belam@theguardian.com – especially if you have spotted an error or typo.

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