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'This isn't what the honours system is for': Azhar Ali's OBE should be reviewed amid antisemitism scandal
13 February 2024, 13:54 | Updated: 14 February 2024, 08:23
- Gideon Falter is Chief Executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism
A Labour councillor and parliamentary candidate is revealed to have promoted an antisemitic conspiracy theory. The Party backs him. More revelations emerge. The Party is forced, under intense media pressure, to drop him.
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We’ve all seen this episode before. From the time when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. But since then Labour has been investigated by the EHRC, following our referral, and found to be institutionally antisemitic.
There was an action plan developed jointly between the Party and the EHRC.
So how is it that this same episode has replayed again this week, under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, who had pledged to tear antisemitism out “by its roots” in the Labour Party?
Azhar Ali, Labour’s candidate for Parliament in the Rochdale by-election this month, was revealed to have claimed that Israel enabled the murder of over 1,200 of its own people — the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust — in order to justify an incursion into Gaza. It was a gruesome antisemitic conspiracy theory and, let’s be frank, a hideous blood libel.
He apologised and Labour stood by him, wheeling out one figure after another to defend him and doing a media round to contain the scandal.
Then more comments emerged, including Mr Ali’s reported opposition to the suspension of Andy McDonald MP, which he reportedly blamed on “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters”.
Then Labour dropped him, his defenders humiliated for having done the bidding of their Party’s PR machine.
Mr Ali’s comments are understood to have been made in late October, shortly after the 7th October Hamas massacre of Israelis.
Since they were made some months ago, the comments have also presumably been known for some time. So the question surely arises as to who in the Party knew that he had made them but turned a blind eye?
This is distressingly familiar to days that Sir Keir promised were behind us. In recent months, he has admirably acted swiftly against Labour MPs including Diane Abbott and Kate Osamor. The Party’s initial failure to do the same in relation to Mr Ali this week is very disappointing.
Rather than appearing as a principled decision, Labour’s withdrawal of support for its candidate at a late stage just looked as expedient as the failed attempt to defend him at first. It is the worst of all worlds for Labour.
The comments were also made, moreover, to a group of Labour activists to bolster his candidacy – presumably in the belief that they would endear him to his audience. What does that say about racism and extremism in the constituency and how they are exploited for political gain?
Mr Ali is not the only candidate about whom these concerns have been raised. Another is George Galloway, the former MP and inflammatory firebrand with, as it happens, a far worse record of baiting the Jewish community. He has also espoused outrageous notions since 7th October, let alone for many years beforehand, and is also running in Rochdale.
There are more profound concerns about our nation’s political health if conspiracy theories are viewed by candidates as potential vote-winners, and more so if they are proven right.
But what of Mr Ali himself? It is particularly galling that he has an OBE for services to the community. He has used his political platform to stoke division and harm communal relations.
This is not what the honours system is for.
We are asking the Honours Forfeiture Committee to review to what extent someone who thinks “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” have influence over our politics is deserving of the privilege of being in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
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