Labour’s by-election candidate in Rochdale was “completely wrong” to say Israel deliberately allowed the 7 October massacre to give it the “green light” to invade Gaza, the party’s UK campaign coordinator has said.
But senior shadow frontbencher Pat McFadden told Sky News’ Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips confirmed Azhar Ali will still stand for the party when the vote takes place on 29 February.
The deadline for nominations closed on 2 February, effectively making it too late for Labour to replace him.
It comes after Mr Ali’s comments, in which he also argued Sir Keir Starmer had “lost the confidence” of his MPs over his stance on the Gaza conflict, were published by The Mail On Sunday newspaper.
His remarks have been branded “disgraceful and unforgivable” by the Jewish community.
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.”
Mr McFadden added: “It was wrong to say that you should never have said it, and it’s right that he is completely apologised now and he himself said it was wrong to say it and that’s the right thing to do.”
Pressed over whether he would remain Labour’s candidate, Mr McFadden said: “Yes, he will.”
Mr Ali made his comments at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party in the wake of the October atrocity, where he claimed the Israeli government had removed its border security to enable the Hamas attack.
He said: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel ten 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.”
After someone suggested Sir Keir was “held in high regard”, Mr Ali replied: “Can I disagree with you… A lot of the MPs I’ve spoken to, non-Muslim MPs, feel that on this issue, he’s lost the confidence of the parliamentary party.”
After his remarks were made public, Mr Ali said in a statement: “I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant, and false.
“Hamas’ horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.
“7 October was the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust, and Jews in the UK and across the world are living in fear of rising antisemitism.
“I will urgently apologise to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments.
“The Labour Party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership, he has my full support in delivering the change Britain needs.”
But the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement: “These comments are disgraceful and unforgivable.
“Were it not too late to do so, we would have called on Labour to replace Mr Ali as a candidate. It is clear to us that Mr Ali is not apologising out of a genuine sense of remorse.
“Despite what he says in his apology, we do not see how we could possibly engage with him at this time and we believe other leading Jewish communal groups will feel similarly.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Trust wrote on social media: “Outrageous, highly offensive, mad and unacceptable.”
Mr Ali, a Lancashire County councillor and former government adviser who was made an OBE in 2020 for public service, was was selected last month to contest the poll, caused by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd.
He is defending a Labour majority of more than 9,000.