Labour’s handling of “clearly anti-Semitic” comments by its Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali was “shambolic”, the lawyer who investigated allegations of racism in the party has said.
Labour withdrew its support for Ali last night after a backlash over his remarks about Israel and Jewish people, having initially stood by him.
The Mail on Sunday reported the councillor allegedly said Israel deliberately allowed 1,400 people to be killed on its own soil on October 7.
Ali reportedly said Israel did so in order to give the “green light” to invade the Palestinian territory of Gaza, when at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party.
Labour stood by Ali after he apologised for his “inexcusable comments”. But on Monday night the position changed “following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today”.
Martin Forde was tasked by Starmer back in 2020 to conduct an inquiry into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism within Labour.
It came after internal document was leaked which revealed deep factional divisions within the party as it dealt with anti-Semitism when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Tuesday, Forde said Ali’s remarks had been “clearly anti-Semitic”.
“It seems to me that the moment that anybody is saying that the Israeli authorities allowed the atrocity to occur that has to bring their judgment into question,” he said.
Asked about Labour’s handling of the row, he said: “One does have to question how such individuals are selected in the first place.
“I’m afraid it appears pretty shambolic.”
It is too late for Labour to remove Ali as their candidate and replace him with someone else as the deadline passed on February 2.
The move is likely to mean Ali will remain the Labour candidate on the ballot paper but the party will not campaign at all.
If elected, he could be forced to sit in parliament as an independent MP.
The disarray opens up the prospect of a win for former Labour MP George Galloway, who is standing as the Workers party candidate and campaigning against Labour’s stance on Gaza.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.
“Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisible from the party of 2019.
“We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values. “Given that nominations have now closed Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.”
The by-election follows the death last month of sitting MP Tony Lloyd. Voters go to the polls at the end of the month.
Ali, who is also a Lancashire County Councillor, has apologised to the Jewish community and retracted his remarks, which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false”.
Also running in Rochdale are former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate.
About 20% of the electorate and 30% of the population of the town are Asian, with polls nationally suggesting Labour’s vote could be hit by Asian people unhappy with the party over Palestine and its perceived support for Israel.