Labour defends decision not to suspend Rochdale candidate

Azhar Ali has faced increasing backlash after his comments on Israel's retaliation in Gaza were secretly recorded by the Daily Mail
Azhar Ali has faced increasing backlash after his comments on Israel's retaliation in Gaza were secretly recorded by the Daily Mail - CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

A Labour frontbencher has defended his party’s decision not to sack its Rochdale by-election candidate who claimed Israel allowed the Oct 7 attacks to take place.

Sir Keir Starmer has faced growing pressure to cut ties with Azhar Ali after the aspiring MP accused the Israelis of letting Hamas massacre 1,200 of its people in order to get the “green light” to attack Gaza.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, a shadow minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Ali’s remarks were “completely and utterly unacceptable” and “in no way represented the views of the Labour Party”.

But when asked why the party had not suspended its candidate, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “Cllr Ali has then apologised unreservedly, he has retracted those remarks and he has also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused and the need to do now tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community which is going to be absolutely essential.

“So it is for those reasons that he hasn’t been suspended, and why we will now continue with this campaign in Rochdale ahead of the by-election on Feb 29.”

‘The green light’

Labour is set to continue its campaigning as normal ahead of the vote on Feb 29 and it is too late for Mr Ali to be removed from the ballot because nominations have closed.

In a secret recording obtained by the Daily Mail on Sunday, Mr Ali was reported to have said: “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.”

Labour has faced an intense backlash for refusing to suspend him from the party or cease campaigning in the Greater Manchester town.

Richard Holden, the Conservative Party chairman, claimed Mr Ali’s comments showed it “simply wasn’t true” that Sir Keir had changed his party since it was engulfed by a series of anti-Semitism rows under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it would have urged Labour to select another candidate if it was not too late to do so, describing the remarks as “disgraceful and unforgivable”.

It said in a statement: “Despite what he says in his apology, we do not see how we could possibly engage with him at this time, and we believe other leading Jewish communal groups will feel similarly.”

Joe Glasman, from the charity Campaign Against Antisemitism, labelled Labour’s handling of the row “distressingly familiar to days that Sir Keir Starmer promised were behind us”.

Mr Ali on Sunday described his comments as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false” and said the Oct 7 attack “was the responsibility of Hamas alone” before calling on the terror group to release the Israeli hostages it continues to hold.

He added: “I will urgently apologise to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments. The Labour Party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership – he has my full support in delivering the change Britain needs.”

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