The Labour Party has issued a statement on behalf of the candidate after the Mail on Sunday published comments from a recording of him telling the Lancashire Labour Party that Israel had been warned of the attack before it happened, but they “deliberately took the security off”.
Mr Ali is alleged to have said: “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.”
The Labour councillor is also alleged to have said that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has “lost the confidence of the parliamentary party”. He said: “A lot of the MPs I’ve spoken to, non-Muslim MPs, feel that on this issue, he’s lost the confidence of the parliamentary party.”
In the statement issued on Sunday morning, Mr Ali said: “I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant, and false.
“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.”
He added: “The Labour Party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership, he has my full support in delivering the change Britain needs.”
With the by-election just over two weeks away, it is too late for Labour to replace Mr Ali as a candidate. Labour MP Pat McFadden also told Sky News that Azhar Ali will remain as Labour’s candidate in Rochdale.
The comments are likely to ignite a major row in the Labour party as Sir Keir has come under intense pressure over his handling of the Gaza crisis. In November, 56 Labour MPs rebelled and backed calls for a ceasefire.
A recent Survation poll conducted for the Labour Muslim Network found that British Muslims are losing trust in Labour over its handling of the Israel-Gaza war.
On Sky News this morning, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden, said Mr Ali’s comments were “completely wrong”.
The shadow frontbencher said: “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.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews have called Mr Ali’s comments “disgraceful and unforgivable”.
“These comments are disgraceful and unforgivable.
Were it not too late to do so, we would have called on Labour to replace Mr Ali as a candidate. It is clear to us that Mr Ali is not apologising out of a genuine sense of remorse.”
Our full statement: https://t.co/w8lw1WA0QP pic.twitter.com/hi2QIOCGq9
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) February 11, 2024
In a statement released on X, formerly Twitter, they said:
“Were it not too late to do so, we would have called on Labour to replace Mr Ali as a candidate. It is clear to us that Mr Ali is not apologising out of a genuine sense of remorse.
“Despite what he says in his apology, we do not see how we could possibly engage with him at this time and we believe other leading Jewish communal groups will feel similarly.”
The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region have also released a public statement condemning the comments.
In a post on X, they called Mr Ali’s comments “deeply troubling” and said the “conspiratorial narrative is highly offensive, completely fictitious and at a time of record antisemitism, has the potential to exacerbate the conflict playing out across Greater Manchester and beyond.”
— Jewish Representative Council of GM & Region (@JewishMCR) February 11, 2024
Labour currently have a majority of more than 9,000 votes in Rochdale and 51.6 per cent of the vote. Mr Ali was selected as the candidate to represent Labour in the upcoming by-election following the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd last month.