Labour Rochdale candidate apologises for blaming Israel for October 7

Board of Deputies rejects response from Azhar Ali, who is contesting Rochdale by-election, after comments revealed in the Daily Mail


ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali launches his by-election campaign on February 07, 2024 in Rochdale, England. Azhar Ali announced his five pledges should he be elected as Rochdale's MP, accompanied by Labour's Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham. The by-election for the Rochdale constituency scheduled for 29 February was triggered by the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd on 17 January, 2024. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Labour candidate for the forthcoming Rochdale by-election has apologised after reportedly suggesting that Israel had allowed the October 7 attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

Councillor Azhar Ali described his remarks — which were revealed by MailOnline on Saturday— as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false” and said he would “urgently apologise to the Jewish community for my inexcusable comments”.

He is contesting the seat left vacant by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd in an election due to take place a fortnight on Thursday.

The newspaper said it had heard a recording of the remarks, which were made at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party shortly after the Hamas atrocities.

Mr Ali is said to have claimed that Israel had ignored warnings from Egypt and the USA and “deliberately took the security off, they allowed… that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want”.

He was also reported to have said that MPs had told him that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had “lost the confidence” of the parliamentary party over his stance on the conflict.

In his apology, Ali said that, “Hamas’ horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released. October 7 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.”

He also offered his “full support” to Sir Keir, saying that the party had “changed unrecognisably” under his leadership.

But the Board of Deputies remained unconvinced by the backtrack. Condemning the “disgraceful and unforgivable” comments, a Board spokesman said on Sunday: “Were it not too late to do so, we would have called on Labour to replace Mr Ali as a candidate.”

The spokesman added, “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.”

As the JC has previously reported, Ali has raised substantial sums for the Sultania Mosque in Brierfield where a preacher Asrar Rashid last month told worshippers that Hamas and its allies would “boot out” the Jews.

Ali’s spokesman has told the JC that he had no part in the daily management of the mosque and did not support the views of extremist preachers. He had worked “closely with interfaith organisations including the Board of Deputies to root out antisemitism in communities”, the spokesman said.

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