Azhar Ali, Labour Party's candidate in the Rochdale by-election, issued an apology on February 11, 2024, after his anti-semitic comments made in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack in Israel were made public by The Mail on Sunday.
Ali's comments, which were secretly recorded at a Lancashire Labour Party meeting after the attack, claimed that the Israeli government had intentionally weakened its security to facilitate the October 7 attack as a guise to retaliate against Gaza.
"The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel ten 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," Ali said.
As these remarks went viral, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer stuck by Ali's side despite facing increasing calls to suspend the by-election campaign and remove Ali's party membership. The deadline for Ali's withdrawal has since passed.
Netizens outraged by Starmer's refusal to remove Azhar Ali's candidacy from the Labour Party
With anti-semitism on the rise in the UK following the October 7 attacks and the consequent bombardment of Gaza by Israel, Azhar Ali's anti-semitic comments left a bad taste in the mouth of many Brits, who advocated for his suspension.
Keir Starmer's refusal to comply left people more enraged, who took to X to voice their displeasure against the Labour Party and their leader.
Azhar Ali's anti-semitic remarks branded as "disgraceful and unforgivable"
According to the BBC, Azhar Ali's comments caused immense backlash amongst the Jewish community. The Board of Deputies of British Jews branded Azhar Ali's comments as "disgraceful and unforgivable", saying:
"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."
Following his comments going public, Ali issued an apology on Sunday for his "inexcusable comments."
"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," he said.
Azhar Ali also continued that the October 7 attack was "the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust" and that Jewish people across the world were "living in fear of rising antisemitism"
In the recorded comments, Azhar Ali could also be heard criticizing Starmer for how he handled the Israel-Gaza conflict, claiming that the Labour leader had "lost the confidence of the parliamentary party."
As per Sky News, the Labour Party had previously been embroiled in an anti-semitic controversy under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer's predecessor. When Starmer took over the Party in April 2020, he vowed to bring about a change in the Party's stance against Jewish people.
The October 7 Hamas attack in Israel left over 1200 people dead and the retaliatory attack in Gaza displaced nearly 1.2 million people. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that nearly 28,000 Palestinians have been killed since the attacks began almost 130 days ago. The conflict continues even as the public calls for a ceasefire.