SPECIAL REPORT: Inside the Israel-Gaza meeting that sparked Labour’s latest antisemitism scandal

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SPECIAL REPORT: Inside the Israel-Gaza meeting that sparked Labour’s latest antisemitism scandal

EXCLUSIVE: Jewish News can reveal the meeting that led to two high-profile suspensions of candidates was called to try to BOLSTER support for leader Keir Starmer's stance

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali, speaks in Rochdale during the launch of his campaign for the up-coming Rochdale by-election
Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali, speaks in Rochdale during the launch of his campaign for the up-coming Rochdale by-election

A Labour meeting on the Gaza conflict that has led to two high-profile suspensions over antisemitism allegations was initially arranged to try to BOLSTER support for party leader Keir Starmer, Jewish News understands.

A recording of the meeting, which took place on October 31, leaked to the Mail on Sunday newspaper has this week resulted in the suspension of two parliamentary candidates, the Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali and the former MP and Hyndburn candidate Graham Jones.

But sources have confirmed to Jewish News that the gathering, which was chaired by Hyndburn Labour Group leader Cllr Munsif Dad, was actually arranged to try and prevent local representatives from breaking from the leadership’s line on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Munsif Dad chaired the October 31st Labour meeting that sparked antisemitism storm

Labour confirmed on Wednesday they had “spoken to” Cllr Dad about the meeting, although he did not appear to have been suspended, and there is no evidence he spoke out of hand.

The shadow defence secretary, John Healey, when asked on Sky News on whether the party would suspend Dad, said: “I don’t know why he was at the meeting.”

He said: “This is not a party of people who are saints. When people do things that may be wrong, say things that may be unacceptable, the important thing is how does the party respond.”

But Jewish News understands that the unofficial meeting was attended by between 14 and 20 people, and that Rochdale contender Cllr Ali had NOT initially been asked to speak at the event, held in the seat that former Labour MP Jones is seeking to regain.

Instead another, pro-Starmer councillor was meant to deliver a speech, but he pulled out, and Ali was asked to attend as a last minute replacement.

Shamed Rochdale candidate Ali is a long-time friend for former MP Jones, and was asked to speak at the meeting because he was expected to defend Starmer’s position on Israel and Hamas.

Azhar Ali made his comments at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party. He later apologised

As the meeting begun, the chair along with Jones and Ali attempted to convince those in attendance that Starmer “is good and we can trust him, but we have to hold a public line”, sources revealed.

But as some in the audience began to express their disapproval of the leader’s stance, Cllr Ali quickly changed his tune, beginning, what the source said was a “disgusting rant” in which he claimed Israel allowed the Hamas atrocity of 7 October to happen in order to give it the “green light” to invade Gaza.

It also emerged on Tuesday that Jones, who had stood down from the frontbench under Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, before attempting to unsuccessfully win back the  Hyndburn seat in 2019, had reportedly also attempted to win favour with those critical of Starmer’s stance, allegedly allegedly referring to “f***ing Israel” in front of the audience.

Jones is also claimed to have told the small audience last October that UK citizens who volunteer to fight for the Israeli Defence Forces “should be locked up” and that it was “illegal” for them to fight for Israel.

The source told Jewish News that Jones was responsible for “showboating nonsense” at the meeting and that it was “awful politics that clearly went too far.”

Multiple sources told Jewish News that Rochdale candidate Ali, for whom Labour have now withdrawn their support, has repeatedly shown himself to be a “leopard who changes his spots” depending on which audience he was speaking to.

John Mann speaks at the 2019 CST annual dinner

Last week he attended a meeting with Jewish communal leaders in Manchester, and gave a convincing case for being supportive of the community’s feeling in the wake of rising antisemitism since October 7th.

One Labour source said Ali was “not in a great place” following the revelations about his anti-Israel rant.

Meanwhile Lord Mann, an independent peer who advises the government on antisemitism, has said political leaders need to “train up” parliamentary candidates on how antisemitism manifests in the UK.

He says: “My advice to the Labour Party, what I think they should do immediately, is get all their candidates trained up on antisemitism… and explain in more detail what it is, how it manifests, the conspiracy theories.

“Because the number of people falling for conspiracy theories – which was Councillor Ali’s excuse – it’s happening all over the place. These things are really taking hold.

“The people coming into parliament, or who aspire to come into parliament, are going to need better judgement than Councillor Ali.”

The former Labour MP said this goes for every political party.

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