Labour's Rochdale by-election candidate apologises for ‘deeply offensive’ Israel claims

Labour by-election candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali Credit: PA Images

Labour's candidate in the Rochdale by-election has apologised for his “deeply offensive” comments after he reportedly said Israel allowed Hamas to carry out its October 7 attack to provide grounds to invade Gaza.

Azhar Ali was recorded making the comments at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party, according to The Mail on Sunday.

The newspaper reported that Mr Ali told the meeting: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier … 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.”

Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel on October 7 last year, in which 1,300 people were killed and more than 240 kidnapped.

Israel retaliated with months of attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding thousands.

Mr Ali is also reported to have said that Sir Keir Starmer had “lost the confidence” of some of his MPs on the issue.

Mr Ali remains as Labour’s candidate in the by-election, which was triggered by the death of sitting MP Sir Tony Lloyd.

Mr Ali, a Lancashire county councillor and former government adviser who was made an OBE in 2020 for public service, said: “I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant and false.

“Hamas’s 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. 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.”

Labour's Pat McFadden Credit: PA

Pat McFadden MP, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, said Mr Ali’s comments were “completely wrong”.

He said on Sky’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “He should never have said something like that.

“It is, of course, completely wrong to say that. I saw this last night, 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.”

Asked if he will be Labour’s candidate for the by-election, Mr McFadden said “yes he will”.

The election follows the death of Sir Tony Lloyd Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

Also running is political firebrand George Galloway, of the Workers Party of Britain, who is campaigning against Labour’s stance on the conflict in Gaza, and former Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate.

Around 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.

The Palestinian death toll stands at almost 28,000 after four months of war, according to Gazan health officials.

Sir Tony held the seat for Labour at the 2019 election with a 9,668 majority over the Conservatives.

Voters go to the polls on February 29.

Rochdale by-election: Candidates list

  • Azhar Ali, Labour Party

  • Mark Coleman, Independent

  • Simon Danczuk, Reform UK

  • Iain Donaldson, Liberal Democrats

  • Paul Ellison, The Conservative Party Candidate

  • George Galloway, Workers Party of Britain

  • Michael Howarth, Independent

  • William Howarth, Independent

  • Guy Otten, Green Party

  • Ravin Subortna, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

  • David Tully, Independent

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