DThe British Labor Party has found itself in a position where it has to defend itself against anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim accusations in equal measure. The reason for this was statements by the constituency candidate Azhar Ali, a local politician with Pakistani roots. He was supposed to defend the Rochdale constituency for his party in a Commons by-election on Thursday next week.
Such by-elections are necessary within a few months if a British MP loses his mandate, resigns or it expires through his death. And the by-elections are always a double test: of the government's popularity and the opposition's chances of victory. This is particularly true for this year, at the end of which the next general election for the House of Commons in Great Britain must take place.
So Labor's actions in the case of the northern English candidate Azhar Ali immediately generated a national response: Over the weekend, video clips of a local Labor party meeting emerged in which Ali made the claim from the lectern that Israel had willfully allowed the Hamas attack and then followed up with the attack to have a free hand in Gaza.
Ali had bought into the conspiracy theory
The London Labor Party leadership issued an immediate apology – but retained Ali as the constituency candidate. The candidate said he had bought into a conspiracy theory. According to the electoral law, it would no longer have been possible to replace him with another Labor politician.
Two days later, the Daily Mail newspaper, which had already revealed Ali's first statements, published further details of his appearance. There he boasted about preventing Israeli flags from being raised in front of municipal buildings after the Hamas attack on October 7th. The party leadership then changed its mind and withdrew Ali's membership and all support. He will still appear on the ballot paper as a Labor candidate on Thursday after next.
Accusations of anti-Semitism have long accompanied the British left. They became virulent during the time of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tolerated the views of individual, sometimes prominent members of the party about Jewish conspiracy theories or Mossad role models in the American police. His successor Keir Starmer set the goal of ridding the party of all anti-Semitic overtones. He also promoted Corbyn himself from the Labor parliamentary group after he trivialized anti-Semitic statements.
Since Hamas's attack on Israel last October, Starmer has faced a different front of allegations. His insistence that Israel's counteroffensive in Gaza was consistent with the right to self-defense sparked sharp protests from Muslim Labor members and officials. Starmer wrote explanatory letters and acted tough when some members of his leadership team in the House of Commons made the case for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
Keir Starmer's change of heart
In the Azhar Ali case, the Labor Party leader has now addressed both positions. At first he stuck with his candidate despite his well-known anti-Semitic comments in order to save a promising by-election. Then he separated from him in order to preserve his credibility in the internal party fight against anti-Semitic tendencies. Now, however, both are in danger of failing.
Renowned lawyer Martin Forde, whom Starmer hired two years ago as an independent expert to examine allegations of anti-Semitism against party members, called the party leadership's actions on Tuesday “pretty chaotic.” And in Rochdale, Labor doesn't just lack the opportunity to replace Ali with a new party candidate. The party now has to stand idly by and watch as another candidate wins there.
George Galloway has a good chance of this. He was the youngest leader of Labor in Scotland in the 1980s. However, he was expelled from the party in 2003 after encouraging British soldiers to desert in the war against Iraq.
Galloway then founded his own party and won a seat in the House of Commons in an east London constituency in 2005. After losing it again after five years, his party won a by-election in Bradford, northern England, in 2012. Galloway also demonstrated anti-Semitic ideas by declaring Bradford an “Israel-free zone”; He also worked as a presenter for Russian and Iranian state television channels.
Simon Danczuk may also have a good chance in the by-election in Rochdale. He, too, once belonged to the Labor Party and was suspended for personal misconduct. And is now running for the right-wing populist party Reform UK.