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Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali over Israel comments Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali over Israel comments
(32 minutes later)
Labour has withdrawn support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali over comments he apparently made about Israel and Jewish people.Labour has withdrawn support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali over comments he apparently made about Israel and Jewish people.
Labour had stood by Mr Ali when he claimed Israel had allowed the 7 October attacks by Hamas as a pretext to invade Gaza.Labour had stood by Mr Ali when he claimed Israel had allowed the 7 October attacks by Hamas as a pretext to invade Gaza.
But it changed position after Mr Ali apparently also blamed Jewish media figures for fuelling criticism against a pro-Palestinian Labour MP.But it changed position after Mr Ali apparently also blamed Jewish media figures for fuelling criticism against a pro-Palestinian Labour MP.
Mr Ali has been contacted for comment.Mr Ali has been contacted for comment.
He will still be listed as the Labour candidate on the ballot paper as it is too late to replace him.He will still be listed as the Labour candidate on the ballot paper as it is too late to replace him.
However, it is understood Mr Ali has been suspended from the party pending an investigation.However, it is understood Mr Ali has been suspended from the party pending an investigation.
Labour had spent days defending him as a candidate, after the Mail on Sunday published comments from Mr Ali, claiming Israel had "allowed" the Hamas attack.Labour had spent days defending him as a candidate, after the Mail on Sunday published comments from Mr Ali, claiming Israel had "allowed" the Hamas attack.
Mr Ali subsequently apologised "to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments".Mr Ali subsequently apologised "to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments".
On Monday evening, the Daily Mail published a fuller recording, allegedly of Mr Ali, blaming "people in the media from certain Jewish quarters" for the suspension of Andy McDonald from the Labour Party.On Monday evening, the Daily Mail published a fuller recording, allegedly of Mr Ali, blaming "people in the media from certain Jewish quarters" for the suspension of Andy McDonald from the Labour Party.
Mr McDonald was suspended last year after saying: "We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty."Mr McDonald was suspended last year after saying: "We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty."
The person on the recording goes on to say Israel planned to "get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza" and "grab" the land.The person on the recording goes on to say Israel planned to "get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza" and "grab" the land.
He also appears to boast about preventing Israeli flags being flown from local public buildings after the deadly attack by Hamas gunmen on 7 October.He also appears to boast about preventing Israeli flags being flown from local public buildings after the deadly attack by Hamas gunmen on 7 October.
All the candidates in the Rochdale by-electionAll the candidates in the Rochdale by-election
Labour candidate apologises after Israel commentsLabour candidate apologises after Israel comments
Labour defends standing by Rochdale candidateLabour defends standing by Rochdale candidate
Labour's National Campaign Coordinator Pat McFadden said Mr Ali was suspended after "more comments" came to light.Labour's National Campaign Coordinator Pat McFadden said Mr Ali was suspended after "more comments" came to light.
Mr McFadden said that "the fact you have got very rare circumstances where a political party is withdrawing support for a candidate after nominations have closed" showed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was serious about "rooting antisemitism out of the Labour Party".Mr McFadden said that "the fact you have got very rare circumstances where a political party is withdrawing support for a candidate after nominations have closed" showed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was serious about "rooting antisemitism out of the Labour Party".
Labour has faced intense pressure since Mr Ali's remarks first surfaced, with widespread condemnation from party members and political rivals.Labour has faced intense pressure since Mr Ali's remarks first surfaced, with widespread condemnation from party members and political rivals.
Frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds had been out campaigning for Mr Ali at the weekend, and shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds was defending Labour's decision to back him on Monday morning.Frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds had been out campaigning for Mr Ali at the weekend, and shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds was defending Labour's decision to back him on Monday morning.
Azhar Ali launched his campaign to be Labour's candidate for Rochdale on 7 February, gaining public backing from many senior figures including Mayor of Manchester Andy BurnhamAzhar Ali launched his campaign to be Labour's candidate for Rochdale on 7 February, gaining public backing from many senior figures including Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham
Martin Forde, who led a review into allegations of bullying and racism in the Labour Party, said the handling of the case had been "pretty shambolic" and it would have been "sensible" to withdraw support for Mr Ali when his comments first emerged.Martin Forde, who led a review into allegations of bullying and racism in the Labour Party, said the handling of the case had been "pretty shambolic" and it would have been "sensible" to withdraw support for Mr Ali when his comments first emerged.
The senior lawyer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a perception among some left-leaning MPs "that when it comes to disciplinary action taken against them then things move rather slowly, but if you're in the right faction of the party, as it were, then things are dealt with either more leniently or more swiftly".The senior lawyer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a perception among some left-leaning MPs "that when it comes to disciplinary action taken against them then things move rather slowly, but if you're in the right faction of the party, as it were, then things are dealt with either more leniently or more swiftly".
Former MP Dame Louise Ellman, who quit the Labour Party in 2019 over antisemitism but rejoined in 2021, said the situation was "complicated by the Rochdale by-election and the legal inability of Labour to put a different candidate up".Former MP Dame Louise Ellman, who quit the Labour Party in 2019 over antisemitism but rejoined in 2021, said the situation was "complicated by the Rochdale by-election and the legal inability of Labour to put a different candidate up".
However, she told Today the party had now taken the right decision.However, she told Today the party had now taken the right decision.
Dame Louise said she had defended Mr Ali because he had given a "proper apology" and his reported comments were "at odds with my experience of him over a period of 20 years", when she said he had consistently spoken out against antisemitism.Dame Louise said she had defended Mr Ali because he had given a "proper apology" and his reported comments were "at odds with my experience of him over a period of 20 years", when she said he had consistently spoken out against antisemitism.
Labour's decision to withdraw support from Mr Ali, who was selected to represent the seat after the death of Sir Tony Lloyd, means it is also highly unlikely that he would be selected by the party to fight this year's general election.Labour's decision to withdraw support from Mr Ali, who was selected to represent the seat after the death of Sir Tony Lloyd, means it is also highly unlikely that he would be selected by the party to fight this year's general election.
And it will add an extra layer of uncertainty to the outcome of the by-election on 29 February in Rochdale, where Labour has a majority of more than 9,000.And it will add an extra layer of uncertainty to the outcome of the by-election on 29 February in Rochdale, where Labour has a majority of more than 9,000.
Also running are former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate, and George Galloway, of the Workers Party of Britain, who is campaigning against Labour's stance on Gaza.Also running are former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate, and George Galloway, of the Workers Party of Britain, who is campaigning against Labour's stance on Gaza.
Paul Ellison, a local business owner and campaigner, is standing for the Conservatives, while Iain Donaldson will represent the Liberal Democrats.Paul Ellison, a local business owner and campaigner, is standing for the Conservatives, while Iain Donaldson will represent the Liberal Democrats.
Guy Otten's name will appear on the ballot paper for the Green Party, but he has said he will not campaign for the seat after comments came to light in which he criticised Palestinians and Islam.Guy Otten's name will appear on the ballot paper for the Green Party, but he has said he will not campaign for the seat after comments came to light in which he criticised Palestinians and Islam.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said the decision to withdraw support from Mr Ali was "the worst of all worlds".A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said the decision to withdraw support from Mr Ali was "the worst of all worlds".
"Rather than appearing as a principled decision, Labour's withdrawal of support for its candidate at this late stage just looks as expedient as the failed attempt to defend him," the spokesperson added."Rather than appearing as a principled decision, Labour's withdrawal of support for its candidate at this late stage just looks as expedient as the failed attempt to defend him," the spokesperson added.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak accused Labour of only withdrawing support for Mr Ali due to "enormous media pressure".Prime Minister Rishi Sunak accused Labour of only withdrawing support for Mr Ali due to "enormous media pressure".
"That's not principled," Mr Sunak said."That's not principled," Mr Sunak said.
In recent months, Labour has suspended two of its MPs from the party for comments related to the conflict - including Mr McDonald.In recent months, Labour has suspended two of its MPs from the party for comments related to the conflict - including Mr McDonald.
In January, Kate Osamor had the party whip removed after saying Gaza should be remembered as genocide in a post about Holocaust Memorial Day.In January, Kate Osamor had the party whip removed after saying Gaza should be remembered as genocide in a post about Holocaust Memorial Day.
Israel declared war on Hamas after the group led an attack on communities inside Israel, killing more than 1,200 people. Israel declared war on Hamas after the group led an attack on communities inside Israel, killing around 1,200 people.
Since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed and 68,000 injured as Israel launched missiles and ground operations into the Gaza Strip in response.Since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed and 68,000 injured as Israel launched missiles and ground operations into the Gaza Strip in response.
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