Azhar Ali, Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate, has issued an apology following controversial comments about Israel, which were disclosed in a secret recording published by the Mail on Sunday.
In the recording, Ali suggested Israel had intentionally “allowed” a deadly Hamas attack on October 7, remarks he now acknowledges as “deeply offensive, ignorant, and false,” the BBC reported.
The Tories have urged Labour to halt its by-election efforts and to expel Ali from the party, although the deadline to replace him as a candidate has already passed.
Labour’s national campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden, denounced Ali’s remarks as incorrect and unrepresentative of the party’s stance, confirming, however, that Ali will still run in the upcoming Rochdale by-election.
On October 7, Hamas militants launched a significant assault from Gaza into southern Israel, resulting in over 1,200 civilian deaths and approximately 250 hostages.
The incident has prompted scrutiny of Israeli security measures, especially amidst reports of prior warnings from Egypt about potential violence.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refuted claims of intelligence warnings as “absolutely false.”
Ali’s apology emphasised the sole responsibility of Hamas for the attack and called for the release of hostages.
Despite his apology, Tories Party Chairman Richard Holden has challenged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to revoke Ali’s membership and suspend the party’s campaign activities.
Ali’s comments have also drawn criticism from the Jewish community, with the Board of Deputies of British Jews expressing skepticism about the sincerity of his apology.
The controversy comes amidst internal Labour debates over the party’s stance on Israel, highlighted by some MPs’ and councillors’ resignations and disagreements over calls for a ceasefire.
Ali has affirmed his support for Keir Starmer’s leadership and the transformative agenda he attributes to the Labour Party under Starmer’s guidance.
This incident has occurred in the lead-up to the Rochdale by-election, triggered by the death of the former MP Sir Tony Lloyd.
The Green Party’s candidate, Guy Otten, also announced his withdrawal from the race due to past social media posts, though his name will remain on the ballot due to the timing of his decision.