Revealed: Leaked audio of Labour Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali’s anti-Israel comments

Labour’s former Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali said Benjamin Netenyahu allowed the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel because he was “in political trouble”.

In the first audio recording of his controversial comments to be made public, the local councillor said the Israeli prime minister “deliberately took the security off” and “allowed the massacre”.

“That gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want [in Gaza],” Mr Ali said.

The audio, made public by Guido Fawkes, was recorded at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party.

As well as claiming Israel allowed the Hamas terror attack, which killed around 1,200 Israelis, to go ahead, Mr Ali also allegedly said Labour’s suspension of a left-wing MP was driven by “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters”.

Labour’s candidate for Rochdale Azhar Ali lost the party’s support on Monday (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour’s candidate for Rochdale Azhar Ali lost the party’s support on Monday (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

The antisemitic outburst, for which he has apologised, cost Mr Ali Labour’s support in the Rochdale by-election. He will appear on the ballot on February 29 due to electoral rules prohibiting a change of candidate, but Labour is no longer backing Mr Ali and he will not sit as a Labour MP if he is elected.

In the recording of his comments, Mr Ali hints that he has expressed the opinion publicly on other occasions, saying “I believe that, and I’ve said it publicly”.

It will raise further questions about how he was allowed to be selected to replace the late Sir Tony Lloyd, the veteran former Labour MP whose death last month sparked the contest.

When Mr Ali’s comments first came to light, in a report by the Mail on Sunday, Labour publicly stood by their man. Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds insisted it would be “unfair” to conclude there is a problem with Labour in Rochdale, adding that Mr Ali had simply “fallen for an online conspiracy theory”.

Frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds had campaigned for Mr Ali over the weekend, while shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds was defending Labour’s decision to back him on Monday morning.

Labour campaign coordinator Pat McFadden criticised Mr Ali but said on Sunday he would remain as Labour’s candidate.

Labour blamed his suspension on “new information”, referring to a report in the Daily Mail that he had blamed Andy McDonald’s suspension on “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters”.

Mr McDonald was suspended by Labour after he used the phrase “between the river and the sea” in a speech during a rally.

Mr Ali is also reported to have claimed Israel planned to “get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza” and “grab” some of the land.

The recording came as a lawyer who led a review into antisemitism in the Labour Party said its handling of the crisis has been “shambolic”.

Martin Forde KC said MPs within the party feel there has been a “disparity in treatment” of allegations of antisemitism following the leadership’s rowback in support for Mr Ali.

Mr Forde, whose 2022 inquiry found that both left and right wings of the party had used antisemitism as a factional weapon under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you want a fair and transparent system then it has to deal with people consistently.”

He added: “I’m aware from discussions with some of the MPs within the party – who might be described as left-leaning – that they feel 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.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.

“Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisable from the party of 2019.

“We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances, but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values. Given that nominations have now closed, Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.”