Britain’s opposition Labor Party changed course on Monday and decided to withdraw support for Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali after more comments ridiculing Israel and Jews came to light.

The Labor Party initially spent days championing Azhar Ali as a candidate in the February 29 special election for the House of Commons seat representing Rochdale, a constituency in northwest England, after the Daily Mail to publish comments he made during a local party meeting last year claiming Israel allowed the October 7 Hamas attack to occur as a pretext to invade Gaza.

Ali, who was selected as a Labor candidate last month, apologized and senior Labor officials called the comments “totally unacceptable” but the party did not immediately suspend him. However, after mounting pressure, Labor said on Monday that while it was too late to replace Ali in the election, the party had “withdrawn its support” for him.

“We understand that these are very unusual circumstances, but it is vital that any candidate put forward by the Labor Party fully represents its objectives and values,” the party said in a statement.

The Daily Mail on Monday published a longer recording in which Ali is allegedly heard blaming “media people in certain Jewish neighborhoods” for Andy McDonald’s suspension last year.

The Labor Party suspended McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, after he used the phrase “of the river and the sea”, which calls for the elimination of the Jewish state, in a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally, the BBC reported. The man believed to be Ali in the recording continues to insist that Israel conspired to “get rid of (Palestinians) in Gaza” and “seize” the land.

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Azhar Ali talks to potential voters

Labor candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali, launches his by-election campaign on February 7, 2024, making five promises if elected MP. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Ali will remain on the ballot despite anti-Semitic comments. He was suspended from the Labor Party pending an investigation, meaning he would serve as an independent lawmaker if he is elected.

Since taking the helm of the Labor Party in 2020, leader Keir Starmer has returned the social democratic party to the political middle ground after the divisive tenure of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, a staunch socialist who advocated for the nationalization of key industries and infrastructure.

The party now has a double-digit lead in polls over the ruling Conservatives and an election will be held this year, according to the Associated Press.

Rochdale voting sign

A woman walks past a sign indicating the location of a polling station in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, ahead of Thursday’s by-election. (Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)

Starmer pledged to repair relations with the British Jewish community and vowed to root out anti-Semitism that had allegedly tainted Corbyn’s party, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. Corbyn was suspended from the Labor Party in 2020 after claiming that his opponents had exaggerated the scale of antisemitism in the party for “political reasons”.

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Ali had been the favorite to win the election, sparked by the death of the previous Labor lawmaker.

Rochdale flyover as residents walk along the street

A view of Rochdale, Greater Manchester, February 13, 2024, ahead of the by-election. (Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)

Other candidates include George Galloway, a former Labor lawmaker who now represents the small Workers’ Party and is campaigning against Labor’s stance on the war between Israel and Hamas. The party has criticized Israel’s conduct in the war and the number of casualties among Palestinian civilians, but has not called for an immediate ceasefire.

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Britain’s Conservative government said on Monday it would impose sanctions on four Israeli settlers accused of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By Sam