Third senior Labour politician 'spoken to' over meeting at centre of anti-semitism row

Graham Jones (left), Azhar Ali (centre) and Munsif Dad (right) are facing serious questions over the meeting they attended at which the alleged comments were made, as ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener explains

A third senior Labour politician attended a meeting at the centre of an anti-semitism row within the party, ITV News understands, as Sir Keir Starmer continues to come under pressure over his handling of the allegations.

Munsif Dad, Labour group leader of Hyndburn Council, was one of three community representatives at the meeting at which former Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, and another candidate, Graham Jones, are alleged to have made comments against Israel.

ITV News understands Mr Dad was "spoken to" by Labour officials.

Former Hyndburn MP, Mr Jones, was suspended on Tuesday and it is understood he was called to an interview that evening with party officials.

Audio obtained by website Guido Fawkes, appeared to show the former Labour MP use the words “f****** Israel”, while also allegedly suggesting that British people who volunteer to fight with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) should be “locked up”.

His suspension came less than 24 hours after Labour withdrew its backing for Mr Ali's candidacy in the Rochdale by-election - a move that leaves the party in a highly unusual position with no time to put forward an alternative candidate.

Mr Ali was suspended after he was recorded suggesting in the same meeting in Hyndburn that Israel had allowed Hamas to attack on October 7 as a pretext to invade Gaza, and allegedly complained about the influence of "certain Jewish quarters" in the media.

It is not yet known if the remarks by Mr Ali and Mr Jones went unchallenged at the community meeting.

Mike Katz, the national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, told ITV News all who were present at the meeting and did not call out the "awful" comments "should all be treated in the same way" and be suspended pending investigation.

“It isn’t just about people who spread repugnant conspiracy theories about Israel or anti-semitic tropes, it’s about people who are in the room and don’t call it out," he said.

"That might have been a private forum but the next day it’s a public forum... and that does real damage."

He said elected officials have a “responsibility” to “promote community cohesion… not to pit communities against each other, not to speak hate or tolerate people who do speak hate”.

Mr Katz admitted it was not Labour's "finest hour, but he added: "The way the party has reacted under Keir Starmer’s leadership to tear out anti-semitisim - the difference between where the party is today and where it was under Jeremy Corbyn is like night and day. And it’s ludicrous to suggest because of the events in Rochdale there’s not been that improvement."

Azhar Ali will now stand as an independent MP at the by-election. Credit: PA

Dame Louise Ellman, who rejoined Labour after quitting over Mr Corbyn’s handling of anti-semitism, agreed the party has "changed dramatically since Sir Keir Starmer became leader" but told ITV News there should be "greater scrutiny of prospective candidates" and that Mr Jones is "not fit to be a Labour MP" following his "outrageous statements".

Shadow defence secretary, John Healey, when asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the party would suspend Mr Dad, said: “I don’t know why he was at the meeting.”

“This is not a party of people who are saints," he added. "When people do things that may be wrong, say things that may be unacceptable, the important thing is how does the party respond."

He insisted that Labour does conduct "strong checks" on prospective MPs “but you can’t see everything everywhere".

Sir Keir said on Tuesday that any allegations against other Labour councillors present at the event at which Mr Ali and Mr Jones allegedly made their remarks would be “fully investigated by the party”.

Former Labour MP Ed Balls told ITV's Good Morning Britain that he believes Mr Jones and Mr Ali had been told to go to the meeting to reassure the community that they were being listened to.

He said it is "untrue" to describe Mr Jones or his comments as anti-semitic.

"Azhar Ali said a terrible thing – an anti-semitic thing," said Mr Balls. “Graham Jones - I know him really well - was an MP. He is not a Corbynite, not hard left, and absolutely not anti Israel. In fact, if anything on the other side of that argument, he’s very, very deeply embedded and knowledgeable about the military."

Sir Keir insisted on Tuesday that Labour "has changed" as he continues to face tough questions about whether he has fulfilled his promise to root out anti-semitism in his party following the scandals that overshadowed Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as leader.

Laura Farris, victims and safeguarding minister, said: "It does show, I’m afraid to say, that quite serious anti-semitism still pervades the ranks of the Labour Party and it does show a lack of decisiveness by their leadership because they were told about it on Saturday and it took nearly 72 hours to decide that wasn’t acceptable."

Before further allegations about Mr Jones surfaced, the Labour leadership had been under increasing pressure to explain why Mr Ali had not been immediately suspended after the first comments emerged.

Mr Ali, who is also a Lancashire County Councillor, apologised to the Jewish community and retracted his original remarks, which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false”.

For almost two days, Labour stood by his candidacy in the Greater Manchester town and said he had fallen "for an online conspiracy theory", but the party later withdrew support after "new information about further comments” about Israel came to light.

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According to a story published by the Daily Mail on Monday night, Mr Ali also said “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” were “giving crap” about MP Andy McDonald, who was suspended by Labour after he used the phrase “between the river and the sea” in a speech during a rally.

The paper also said the now-former Labour candidate claimed that Israel planned to “get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza” and “grab” some of the land.

Sir Keir said he took "tough and decisive" action to withdraw support for his candidate in the Labour stronghold seat after the second set of remarks emerged.

Voters go to the polls in the Rochdale by-election at the end of the month, with the result now hugely uncertain following the decision to drop support for Mr Ali.

Also running in the constituency 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.

If elected, Mr Ali will sit as an independent MP and will not receive the party whip.

The decision means that Labour will also need to find a new candidate to contest the seat at the upcoming general election.

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