Second Labour candidate Graham Jones suspended over anti-Israel rant

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Sir Keir Starmer is facing a growing crisis over his party’s stance on Gaza after a second Labour candidate was suspended after being accused of anti-Israel comments.

Graham Jones, the former MP for Hyndburn who is seeking re-election in the seat, was recorded saying “f**king Israel” repeatedly, according to the political news website Guido Fawkes.

Mr Jones reportedly also called for Britons fighting for the Israel Defence Forces to be “locked up”. He is understood to have made the comment to Azhar Ali during the same meeting of activists which prompted his suspension on Monday.

i understands Mr Jones has been administratively suspended from the Labour party pending further investigation. He was called into an interview with party officials on Tuesday evening.

The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), a group that is affiliated with the party, said Mr Jones’s comments were “appalling and unacceptable”.

A spokesperson for JLM said: “We are dismayed that Jones was not only a bystander at the meeting where Azhar Ali made his anti-semitic comments, but sought to inflame tensions further.

“Over the past two days, the importance of a zero tolerance approach to anti-semitism in Labour has become clearer than ever.”

It comes after Labour was plunged into turmoil on Monday night after the party said it could no longer endorse Mr Ali, its candidate for the Rochdale by-election.

Ministers had defended him throughout the day on Monday after the Mail on Sunday published comments he made shortly after the Hamas attacks on 7 October. In an audio recording, Mr Ali claimed Israel deliberately allowed the massacre to go ahead to give it the “green light” to invade Gaza.

The Labour councillor apologised for the comments, with shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds claiming Mr Ali had fallen for an “online conspiracy theory and that does not represent his view”.

But Labour U-turned on its support for the candidate hours later and claimed new information had come to light. The Daily Mail subsequently published a fuller recording, allegedly of Mr Ali, blaming “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for the suspension of Andy McDonald from the Labour party.

Mr McDonald was suspended from the party last year after using the controversial pro-Palestine phrase “between the river and the sea” in a speech during a protest rally.

Mr Ali also claimed Israel planned to “get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza” and “grab” some of the land.

Sara Britcliffe, the Conservative MP for Hyndburn, said: “At a time of increasing community tensions, it is the responsibility of all of us in politics to be careful with the language we use.

“We need immediate answers from those seeking to represent Hyndburn about whether they challenged Mr Ali. Creating community cohesion is essential and this quite frankly does the complete opposite.

“This is a clear example that the Labour party under Sir Keir Starmer has not changed at all.”

Both Labour and Mr Jones were approached for comment.

Azhar Ali was selected as the Labour candidate for Rochdale on 27 January, ahead of Paul Waugh, who stepped aside as i’s chief political commentator, and Wigan councillor Nazia Rehman.

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