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Labour withdraws support for Rochdale by-election candidate

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Published Time: 13.02.2024 - 03:40:12 Modified Time: 13.02.2024 - 03:40:12

Sir Keir Starmer cuts ties with Azhar Ali, who was embroiled in anti-Semitism row after claiming Israel allowed Oct 7 attacks to take place Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Labour has withdrawn its support for its Rochdale by-election candidate and suspended him from the party after he was embroiled in an anti-Semitism row

Sir Keir Starmer cuts ties with Azhar Ali, who was embroiled in anti-Semitism row after claiming Israel allowed Oct 7 attacks to take place

: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Labour has withdrawn its support for its Rochdale by-election candidate and suspended him from the party after he was embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.

Sir Keir Starmer had stood by Azhar Ali despite growing protests from the Jewish community and within his party after Mr Ali claimed Israel deliberately let Hamas massacre its citizens on Oct 7 to pave the way for attacking Gaza.

The Labour leader was forced into a U-turn after “further comments” surfaced on Monday and Mr Ali is understood to have been suspended from the party pending an investigation. 

He will not be replaced as Labour’s candidate in the Feb 29 Rochdale by-election because it is not possible to amend the ballot now that nominations have closed. 

Although he will still technically remain as the Labour candidate, he is likely to have the whip removed immediately if he wins, making him an independent MP. 

It means Labour is effectively conceding the Greater Manchester seat, where it has a majority of roughly 9,000.

The party had previously vowed to keep campaigning for Mr Ali after his apology for accusing Israel of paving the way for the slaughter of its own people on Oct 7.

But on Monday night, a Labour spokesman said: “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.

“Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisable from the party of 2019. We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances, but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values.

“Given that nominations have now closed, Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.”

Shortly before the statement was published, it emerged that the party had received a formal complaint over Mr Ali’s comments from the director of the Labour Against Anti-Semitism campaign group.

The organisation, which is not affiliated with Labour, told Sky News: “Sir Keir Starmer has made good progress fighting anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, but this episode shows that more needs to be done or it risks becoming a bigger problem.”

On Monday night, the Daily Mail released an audio tape allegedly revealing further comments made by Mr Ali at the same time as his previously-reported remarks about the October 7 attack.

He is said to have claimed Israel was planning a “land grab” in Gaza, and blamed Jewish people in the media for fuelling criticism of Andy McDonald, the Labour MP suspended after using the slogan “between the river and the sea”.

The Jewish Labour Movement said it was “correct” that Mr Ali would no longer be able to become a Labour MP.

In a statement, it said: “When Jewish Labour Movement first heard of Ali’s comments, we immediately withdrew our support, cancelling our campaign days and resources.

“In light of new information and further comments from Ali, Labour is right to cease all campaigning for him. As he cannot be removed from the ballot, we believe it is correct that he will not sit as a Labour MP if elected.”

It came after it emerged that Mr Ali had called for Israel to be investigated for potential war crimes in Gaza.

In a letter to Sir Keir after the Hamas attacks, he joined around 40 Labour councillors in accusing Israel of a “blatant violation of international law” with “collective punishment” of Palestinians.

The signatories said it had been “deeply unsettling” to witness the “relentless bombardment” of Gaza, criticising the “historical injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.

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