Keir Starmer has been accused of failing to tackle antisemitism within the Labour Party, after the party’s candidate in the Rochdale byelection a series of “deeply offensive” remarks about the conflict in Israel and Gaza.
Azhar Ali was recorded at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party claiming that Israel deliberately relaxed its security in October, ahead of the Hamas attacks, following warnings of an iminent threat.
He has since apologised “unreservedly to the Jewish community” for the remarks, admitting that they were “deeply offensive”.
But the Campaign Against Antisemitism suggested the Labour Party’s failure to suspend Ali is “distressingly familiar” to when Jeremy Corbyn was in charge.
Keir Starmer /Azhar Ali
Joe Glasman, the head of political and government investigations, said: “This man does not belong in a major political party, let alone in parliament, yet Labour is, incredibly, still backing his candidacy after a quick apology.”
He added: “This is distressingly familiar to days that Sir Keir Starmer promised were behind us. This is not tearing antisemitism out ‘by its roots’.”
The Jewish Labour Movement will not campaign in Rochdale, Mike Katz, the national chair of the organisation said, saying Ali “destroyed his past record of allyship with the Jewish community” with his “totally reprehensible” comments.
But he added: “We know how far the party has come under Keir Starmer in tackling antisemitism and that the party, from Starmer down, is as shocked and disgusted by Ali’s comments as we are.”
Ali was heard saying: “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.”
The Lancashire county councillor and former government adviser was made an OBE in 2020 for public service.
Apologising for the remarks, he admitted they were “deepy offensive, ignorant and false”.
He added: “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”
Ali promised to “urgently apologise to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments”.
He also maintained that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership”.
The party has maintained its support for Ali, despite his remarks, with Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden saying: “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.”
But he said that Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and were not representative of the party’s views.
Nick Thomas-Symonds told the BBC that Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory, adding that his apology should be taken at face value
Meanwhile, Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow minister without portfolio, told the BBC that Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory, adding that his apology should be taken at face value.
He said: “Councillor Ali has apologised unreservedly, he’s retracted those remarks, and he’s also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused, and the need now to do tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, which is going to be absolutely essential. So it’s for those reasons that he hasn’t been suspended.”