Labour criticised for backing Rochdale candidate after offensive Israel remark | Labour


Labour is facing criticism for standing by a parliamentary candidate who has been forced to apologise for suggesting that Israel allowed Hamas’s 7 October attacks to take place to provide grounds to invade Gaza.

The comments made by Azhar Ali, the party’s candidate in the Rochdale byelection, have threatened to reignite the damaging row over antisemitism in the Labour party that blighted Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

“This man does not belong in a major political party, let alone in parliament, yet Labour is, incredibly, still backing his candidacy after a quick apology,” said Joe Glasman, the head of political and government investigations at Campaign Against Antisemitism.

“This is distressingly familiar to days that Sir Keir Starmer promised were behind us. This is not tearing antisemitism out ‘by its roots’.”

Ali apologised for the “deeply offensive” remarks after he was recorded telling a meeting of the Lancashire Labour party that Israel had deliberately relaxed security after warnings of an imminent threat.

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

Ali, a Lancashire county councillor and former government adviser who was made an OBE in 2020 for public service, has since apologised “unreservedly to the Jewish community” for the comments, which he acknowledged were “deeply offensive, ignorant and false”.

He said: “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

He promised to “urgently apologise to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments”, saying that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership”.

The party has stood by him, with its national campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden, saying that Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view. But he 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.”

The party’s shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 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 chair 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.

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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.”

The deadline to remove Ali from the ballot paper has passed, but the party could withdraw campaign support.

The Conservatives have called for the aspiring MP’s campaign to be suspended and his Labour party membership removed. The cabinet minister Michael Gove said: “Sir Keir Starmer cannot continue to support this candidacy.”

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