Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Labour’s Rochdale shame

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali (photo: Getty)

So Labour still has cranks in its ranks. The party remains a haven for conspiracy theorists. For all Keir Starmer’s claims to have rooted out the ‘anti-Zionist’ hotheads that swarmed the party in the Corbyn years, there still seem to be a fair few around.

Consider the Azhar Ali affair. Mr Ali is the Labour candidate in the upcoming Rochdale by-election. This is a man who has promoted the poisonous, post-truth claim that Israel ‘deliberately’ allowed the Hamas pogrom of 7 October to go ahead. Who has said Israel permitted the slaughter of more than a thousand of its own citizens so that it would have a ‘green light’ to invade Gaza.

Ali made these vile utterances at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour party shortly after the 7 October attacks. The Egyptians warned the Israelis that something big was about to happen, he said. The Americans warned them too. And yet still Israel ‘deliberately took the security off’. ‘They allowed… that massacre’, said Ali, because they believed it would give them ‘the green light to do whatever they bloody want.’

Think about what is being said here. That Israel is such a malign entity, such a twisted, devious state, that it was willing to sacrifice hundreds of its own citizens in order to gain a pretext for invading Gaza. This strange nation is so consumed by bloodlust, it seems, that it is content to allow the massacre of its own men, women and children in order to gain a sneaky excuse for ‘massacring’ Gaza.

This is a conspiracy theory, pure and simple. And it has eerie echoes of conspiracy theories of old, which likewise defamed Jews as uniquely cunning and bloodily self-serving. As the Campaign Against Antisemitism says, the idea that Israel essentially ‘engineered the murder of over 1,200 of its own people’ smacks of ‘a blood libel’.

Of course, the internet has been awash with wild claims about Israel throwing open its borders to the marauding anti-Semites of Hamas. Others have engaged in outright atrocity denialism, insisting that the horrors of 7 October have been exaggerated. The loons can’t make up their minds. They can’t decide whether Israel masterminded the massacre or it really was the sole handiwork of Hamas but it wasn’t as bad as we have been led to believe.

The aim of all this conspiracy-mongering is as clear as it is cynical: to protect western activists from the truth about Hamas, the truth about this movement some of them sympathise with, if not outright support. Minimising the 7 October atrocity, or flat-out blaming it on Israel and its ‘deliberate’ standing down of border security, means the West’s anti-Israel set never has to face up to the unsettling reality – that ‘their side’ carried out the worst act of racist violence of this millennium so far, and the worst act of anti-Jewish mass murder since the Holocaust.

And yet while it is unsurprising to see such Israelophobic conspiracy theories swirl around social media, it is deeply disturbing to see them in the Labour party. That there was a meeting of a branch of Labour in the aftermath of 7 October at which a senior figure gave voice to the disgusting claim that Israel let its citizens be slaughtered is concerning in the extreme. So much for Starmer’s gleaming new party, cleansed of Corbynista lunacy.

Starmer seems not to appreciate the seriousness of the Azhar Ali scandal. At the time of writing, Mr Ali remains Labour’s candidate in Rochdale. No doubt party bigwigs will point to the fact that he has now expressed remorse for his conspiracism. ‘I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant and false’, he said on Sunday.

But, forgive my scepticism, doesn’t this apology sound a little mechanical? It is not clear to me how, in just four months, someone can go from believing that Israel ‘deliberately’ let radical Islamists invade its southern border to thinking such a claim is insane and untrue. Either Mr Ali has had a truly Damascene conversion to the cause of reason or he’s backtracking in a desperate bid to stay on the ballot paper.

Either way, it is clear Labour still has some very serious problems. That one of our main parties is running a candidate who just a few months ago accused the Jewish state of allowing racist monsters to murder its citizens is gobsmacking. My question to Sir Keir is this: why is Diane Abbott still suspended for her ridiculous claim that Jews experience prejudice but not racism, while Mr Ali remains on your Rochdale ticket despite promoting horrible Israelophobic myths? Are you really interested in fighting racism, or just in settling scores with Corbynism?

I predict the Rochdale by-election will tell us a lot about 21st-century Britain, and none of it good. We will see, in real time, the deepening of that unholiest of marriages between sections of the Muslim community and the radical left, all united in their visceral loathing for Israel that sometimes crosses the line into something much, much darker. The socialism of fools remains unvanquished.