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Third Labour politician questioned by party officials as antisemitism row deepens

A third Labour politician who attended a now notorious council meeting which sparked renewed antisemitism concerns within the party has been spoken to by party officials as they investigate what happened.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party has been pitched into a deepening row about the handling of antisemitism allegations, with parliamentary candidate Graham Jones suspended on Tuesday, only a day after Labour was forced to suspend and withdraw its backing for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali.

Mr Ali had claimed Israel allowed the 7 October Hamas attack to take place to lay the ground for an invasion of Gaza. He later apologised. At the same meeting, former MP Graham Jones, who had been selected to run for his old Hyndburn seat again, referred to “f***ing Israel” and appeared to say that Britons who volunteer to fight for the Israel Defence Forces “should be locked up”.

It has now emerged that Hyndburn councillor Munsif Dad, who leads the local authority’s Labour group, is thought to have been at the gathering where two parliamentary candidates are alleged to have made antisemitic remarks.

There is no suggestion that Mr Dad, who leads the local authority’s Labour group, made inappropriate comments at the meeting and no further action has been taken.

The meeting has reignited fears among Jewish members of widespread antisemitism within the Labour Party, with some pointing to Israel’s military action in Gaza as having sparked a “huge spike in antisemitism”.

Mike Katz, chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), called for the party to step up checks on candidates selected before the Hamas terror attacks and training for candidates to be able to recognise and combat antisemitism.

He told The Independent: “I think the party should bear in mind that the level of antisemitic conspiracy theory and misinformation on social media has really increased since October 7, and go back over to check again what people have said and what they have posted.”

As the fallout from the controversial meeting grew:

  • The SNP threatened to reopen Labour divisions on the Middle East by forcing a Gaza ceasefire motion to be voted on in the Commons

  • Momentum slammed Labour for suspending “disproportionately Black and brown MPs” over their support for Palestine

  • Labour’s poll lead over the Tories fell to its lowest level since last June as Sir Keir faces one of his most troubling spells since taking over the party

  • Labour pledged to investigate all allegations of antisemitism and “take it seriously”

Mr Katz said: “Obviously a lot of candidates were selected well before then and are out campaigning in their seats.

“It is not about political expediency. It is to make sure people understand and recognise antisemitism and discrimination, and are willing to call it out, wherever they see it, as part of their role in promoting community cohesion.”

Meanwhile, Dame Louise Ellman, a Jewish former MP who quit Labour in 2019 over antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, said “proper scrutiny” had not been done over the candidates.

Sir Keir Starmer claimed he took ‘decisive action’ suspending Azhar Ali after his antisemitic comments came to light (EPA)
Sir Keir Starmer claimed he took ‘decisive action’ suspending Azhar Ali after his antisemitic comments came to light (EPA)

She said Sir Keir was “a bit slow” to deal with the latest antisemitism crisis, which brought the party “into disrepute”.

And, while Dame Louise told Times Radio that Labour has been “doing very well in rooting out antisemitism”, she described the latest scandal as “a setback”.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism reminded Labour of its responsibility to train local activists and candidates to spot and tackle antisemitism. It said Labour “in particular” has a duty to do so because of the action plan to drive antisemitism out of the party agreed with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

A spokesman told The Independent: “Since we referred Labour to the EHRC and its investigation into the party, it has been clear that all political parties must rigorously vet their officers and candidates. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to scrutiny and scandal, as we have seen twice in Rochdale in as many days.”

It came after Martin Forde KC, the lawyer who led a review into antisemitism in the party, said Labour’s handling of the crisis was “shambolic”.

Labour initially backed Mr Ali, saying he had fallen for an online conspiracy theory. But the party dramatically dropped him on Monday night after it emerged that he had also blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for fuelling criticism of a pro-Palestinian MP.

Mr Ali will still appear as Labour’s candidate on the Rochdale ballot this month due to a deadline for removing candidates, but he will not be a Labour MP if he wins. The party has suspended Mr Jones pending an investigation and will likely pick a new candidate to contest Hyndburn at the general election.

On Tuesday, shadow defence secretary John Healey said Labour will “follow the hard evidence” to ensure anyone who does not meet the standards of the party will be investigated. He said: “Anyone at that meeting, if there is evidence that they have, that people acted or spoke in a way that doesn’t meet the standards, or is incompatible with the values of our Labour Party, they need to report it, provide it and the Labour Party will take it seriously and investigate it. It’s what we do with every case.”

Pushed on whether Mr Ali was properly vetted, Mr Healey said the Rochdale candidate was “widely respected” and “widely supported across communities, including the Jewish community in the North West”.

The Conservatives have said the furore showed that claims Labour had changed under Sir Keir were “hollow”.