Senior Labour figures have said they are standing behind a by-election candidate who claimed Israel allowed the October 7 attack to happen to further its goals in Gaza.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow international development secretary, was photographed campaigning with Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali after he issued an apology to the Jewish community for his remarks.
The local councillor was selected by the party to replace veteran MP Tony Lloyd, who died in office earlier this year.
On Saturday, however, it was revealed that Ali had pushed a conspiracy theory while speaking to Labour members behind closed doors soon after October 7.
"The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel ten days earlier,” he said in a recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday.
"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.”
Writing on X on Sunday, Ali said he apologised “unreservedly” to the Jewish community for his “deeply offensive, ignorant, and false” remarks.
He wrote: “Hamas’ horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.
"October 7th 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.”
Senior party figures have since expressed their continued support for Ali.
Pat McFadden, Labour's national campaign coordinator, told Sky News yesterday: “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.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, a shadow minister without portfolio, told Radio 4 that Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory.
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.”
Speaking later to LBC, Thomas-Symonds insisted that Ali is not racist towards Jews.
“It's a totally unacceptable online conspiracy theory... he's said himself that he fell for this online conspiracy,” he said.
"I take that as being out of character, and what he says at face value. The conspiracy theory is one of a range of antisemitic conspiracy theory. I don't believe he is antisemitic, that's why we continue to support him."
Others condemned Labour’s alleged failure to adequately deal with anti-Israel conspiracy theories.
“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,” the Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Joe Glasman told the Guardian.
“This is distressingly familiar to days that Sir Keir Starmer promised were behind us. This is not tearing antisemitism out ‘by its roots’.”
Jewish Labour Movement's [JLM] National Chair Mike Katz said Ali's comments were "totally reprehensible".
But, he added, it was too late for Labour to pick a different candidate.
"[The] fact is, alternative in Rochdale is George Galloway,” Katz wrote on X.
"Giving him a parliamentary platform to spew hate & sow division will harm the Jewish community far more than electing Ali. Handing election to Galloway will be a Pyrrhic victory for those calling on Labour to go further now.
"JLM won't campaign in Rochdale. But 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. This proves there is still much work to do.”
Bev Place, a Rochdale Labour councillor, said: "I want the best person for Rochdale, not an opportunist hell-bent on dividing our town. I believe Azhar when he says his comments have been taken out of context.”
Louise Ellman said she had known Ali for over 20 years, and that he had consistently supported her when she faced antisemitic attacks.
"I have always found him to be an ally, which makes these comments out of character,” she wrote on X. “He should now have the opportunity to work with the Jewish community to restore the loss of trust his actions have caused.”
The Labour Party has been approached for comment.