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Labour candidate 'wrong' to say Israel allowed 7 October attackbut will still stand in by-election

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Published Time: 11.02.2024 - 15:40:32 Modified Time: 11.02.2024 - 15:40:32

Remarks made by Azhar Ali have been branded "warped" and "disgraceful" by the Jewish community, which fears they could further fuel hostility, but with the deadline for nominations closed it is too late for the party to replace him

Remarks made by Azhar Ali have been branded "warped" and "disgraceful" by the Jewish community, which fears they could further fuel hostility, but with the deadline for nominations closed it is too late for the party to replace him.

Sunday 11 February 2024 12:05, UK

Labour's by-election candidate in Rochdale was "completely wrong" to say Israel deliberately allowed the 7 October massacre to give it the "green light" to invade Gaza, the party's UK campaign coordinator has said.

But senior shadow frontbencher Pat McFadden told Sky News' Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips that Azhar Ali, who also criticised leader Sir Keir Starmer over the conflict, will still stand for the party when the vote takes place on 29 February.

The deadline for nominations closed on 2 February, effectively making it too late for Labour to replace him.

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There will also be concerns any move to cut ties with Mr Ali would play into the hands of political firebrand George Galloway, of the Workers Party of Britain, who is campaigning against Labour's stance on Gaza.

The row erupted after Mr Ali's comments were published by The Mail On Sunday newspaper.

His remarks have been branded "warped" and "disgraceful" by the Jewish community, which fears they could further fuel hostility.

It will also be seized on by political opponents as evidence that Sir Keir has failed to change Labour since Jeremy Corbyn, when the party was embroiled in an antisemitism controversy.

Mr McFadden said of Mr Ali: "His comments were completely wrong. He should never have said something like that.

"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."

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Mr McFadden added: "It was wrong to say that you should never have said it, and it's right that he is completely apologised now and he himself said it was wrong to say it and that's the right thing to do."

Pressed over whether he would remain Labour's candidate, Mr McFadden said: "Yes, he will."

Mr Ali made his comments at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party in the wake of the October atrocity, where he claimed the Israeli government had removed its border security to enable the Hamas attack.

He said: "The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel ten 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."

After someone suggested Sir Keir was "held in high regard", Mr Ali replied: "Can I disagree with you... A lot of the MPs I've spoken to, non-Muslim MPs, feel that on this issue, he's lost the confidence of the parliamentary party."

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After his remarks were made public, Mr Ali said in a statement: "I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant, and false.

"Hamas's horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.

"7 October was the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust, and Jews in the UK and across the world are living in fear of rising antisemitism.

"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."

The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester & Region said it had met Mr Ali and been reassured by his "long track record of interfaith work and combatting extremism", but had been "shocked and appalled" about his remarks on the Hamas attack, which it said demonstrated "warped thinking".

'Unforgivable'

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement: "These comments are disgraceful and unforgivable.

"Were it not too late to do so, we would have called on Labour to replace Mr Ali as a candidate. It is clear to us that Mr Ali is not apologising out of a genuine sense of remorse."

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, wrote on social media: "Outrageous, highly offensive, mad and unacceptable."

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden said: "Time after time, Sir Keir Starmer says that he's changed Labour. Time after time we're seeing that simply isn't true.

"While vile racist slurs are freely exchanged within Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party, it is unfit to hold public office.

"Sir Keir Starmer should immediately remove Mr Ali's Labour membership and suspend Labour's campaign.

"If Labour won't do that, the public will see that Labour is happy to run antisemitic candidates to attract racist votes and is therefore unfit to play a leading role in our nation's affairs."

Mr Ali, a Lancashire county councillor and former government adviser who was made an OBE in 2020 for public service, was selected last month to contest the poll, caused by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd.

He is defending a Labour majority of more than 9,000.

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