LABOUR are facing criticism for standing by their Rochdale by-election candidate, even after he claimed that Israel allowed Hamas to carry out its October 7 attack to provide grounds to invade Gaza.

Azhar Ali apologised for his “deeply offensive” comments after he was recorded telling a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party that Israel had deliberately relaxed security after warnings of an imminent threat.

Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds insisted it would be “unfair” to conclude there is a problem with Labour in Rochdale and said he believed Ali had fallen “for an online conspiracy theory”.

READ MORE: Labour by-election candidate apologises for Israel claims

On why Ali has not been suspended, Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, let me first say the remarks that have been made are completely and utterly unacceptable. I was very shocked and appalled to see them and they in no way represent the views of the Labour Party.

“Councillor Ali has apologised unreservedly. He’s retracted those remarks and he’s also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused and the need to do now tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community which is going to be absolutely essential.

“So it’s for those reasons he hasn’t been suspended and why we will now continue this campaign in Rochdale.”

The decision has sparked some controversy, however.

MP Diane Abbott (below), whose Labour whip was suspended in April 2023, appeared to suggest the decision was hypocritical – mentioning Kate Osamor.

The National: LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 17: Whitehall is blocked as supporters of Stand Up To Racism take the knee at Downing street to support black England players racially abused after the Euro final on July 17, 2021 in London, England..

Labour recently suspended Osamor as an MP after she suggested the Gaza war should be remembered as a genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day.

On Twitter/X, the former shadow home secretary said: “Kate Osamor removed as a Labour MP for suggesting Gaza might be genocide.

“But Azhar Ali, the @UKLabour Rochdale candidate, accuses Israel of deliberately allowing the October 7 massacre and he gets full support.”

As well as reigniting a row over antisemitism in the party, Ali’s comments could highlight divisions within Labour over its stance on the Gaza conflict.

The Labour leadership’s initial refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire has faced serious criticism from within and outwith the party ranks.

Also running in Rochdale 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.

About 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.