Labour withdraws support for Rochdale by-election candidate after Israel conspiracy theory remarks

12 February 2024, 19:47 | Updated: 13 February 2024, 01:13

The Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, was forced to issue an apology after he claimed at a party meeting in Lancashire that the Israeli government had removed its border security to allow Hamas to carry out the attack.
The Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, was forced to issue an apology after he claimed at a party meeting in Lancashire that the Israeli government had removed its border security to allow Hamas to carry out the attack. Picture: Alamy

By Danielle De Wolfe

Labour has withdrawn its support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after criticism of remarks about Israel, a party spokesperson has said.

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The Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, was forced to issue an apology after he claimed at a party meeting in Lancashire that the Israeli government had removed its border security strategically.

He explained in the recording that the move of allowing Hamas to carry out the attack was allowed as a pretext to invading Gaza.

Following Ali's comments, Labour has now withdrawn its support for his candidacy, distancing themselves from his comments.

A party spokesperson for Labour said: "Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.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."

Rochdale by-election: See the full list of candidates here

Mr Ali had apologised for the comments shortly after he was recorded speaking on Israel's actions following the October 7 Hamas attack.
Mr Ali had apologised for the comments shortly after he was recorded speaking on Israel's actions following the October 7 Hamas attack. Picture: Alamy

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It is now too late to remove Ali from the ballot, though there remains outrage that he will be allowed to stand.

Speaking with LBC following Ali's comments, shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds told Nick Ferrari: "It's a totally unacceptable online conspiracy theory, I am not shying away from that.

"He fell for this online conspiracy theory ... I take what he says at face value."

When pressed again, he said: "The conspiracy theory is one of a range of antisemitic conspiracy theories, nobody is shying away from that.

"He is saying - and I take this at entirely at face value - that he fell for an online conspiracy theory.

"I don't believe he is antisemitic and that's why we continue to support him," he continued.

"He is someone that very respected colleagues have known over decades... point to his record of standing up against antisemitism, therefore it is out of character."

Owen Jones reacts to Labour's Azhar Ali's comments

The Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, was forced to issue an apology after he claimed at a party meeting in Lancashire that the Israeli government had removed its border security to allow Hamas to carry out the attack.
The Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, was forced to issue an apology after he claimed at a party meeting in Lancashire that the Israeli government had removed its border security to allow Hamas to carry out the attack. Picture: Alamy

Ali's initial comments, which were captured on a recording, allege that Israel received forewarning of the attacks.

Ali said: "The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel ten days earlier... Americans warned them a day before [that] there's something happening...

Adding: "They deliberately took the security off, they allowed... that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want."

A campaign coordinator for Labour explained that Ali was "completely wrong" to say Israel allowed the October 7 attack to go ahead.

Nick Thomas-Symonds expresses his support for Azhar Ali in a conversation with Nick Ferrari

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has branded Labour's stance "obscene", with the comments described as "disgraceful".

"This is not tearing anti-Semitism out 'by its roots'.Labour must urgently re-examine this obscene decision if its leader is to be regarded as a man of his word."

Speaking on Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, senior shadow frontbencher Pat McFadden said he hoped Ali "learns a good lesson from" what he said.

Mr McFadden said : "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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