The Labour Party has suspended one its election candidates who allegedly referred to “f***ing Israel” at a meeting of activists, Sky News understands.
Graham Jones has been administratively suspended from the party pending investigation and was called in for an interview this evening after his comments were revealed by the website Guido Fawkes.
Mr Jones, the former Labour MP for Hyndburn who lost his seat in 2019 and is seeking to stand again, is alleged to have said 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, according to the website Guido Fawkes.
He allegedly made the comments at the same meeting at which remarks were made by the now-dropped Labour candidate for the Rochdale by-election Azhar Ali.
One person present at the meeting said that during his remarks Mr Jones said: “People should put Britain first and stop putting other countries first.”
It is understood that the meeting took place in the weeks shortly after the October 7 attacks and that many of those attending were Muslims.
Labour was forced to disown Mr Ali after the comments emerged from a meeting of activists 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.
The party then chose to withdraw support for Mr Ali after further comments were published by the Daily Mail in which he allegedly blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for fuelling criticism of a pro-Palestinian Labour MP, as well as claiming Israel planned to “get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza” and “grab” some of the land.
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 antisemitic comments, but sought to inflame tensions further.
“Over the past two days, the importance of a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism in Labour has become clearer than ever. Labour must stand Graham Jones down as a parliamentary candidate and conduct a disciplinary investigation.”
Their calls were echoed by the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region, who urged Labour to take “firm and decisive action against their parliamentary candidate for Hyndburn, Graham Jones”.
“He was at the meeting where Azhar Ali referenced his antisemitic conspiracy theories that led to the Labour Party withdrawing their support,” it said.
“Not only did Mr Jones not seek to challenge the awful views expressed, he doubled down with further deeply offensive comments about British-Israeli Jews.”
Sky News has contacted Mr Jones and the Labour Party for comment.
Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell has said the UK recognises the right of British citizens with “additional nationalities to serve in the legitimately recognised armed forces of the country of their other nationalities”.
“The Israel Defence Force is a recognised armed force and British nationals are both able to volunteer into the Israel Defence Force and eligible for national service.
“For Israel, one does not have to be Israeli to serve in the Israel Defence Force.”
The latest controversy comes after Sir Keir Starmer claimed today that he took “decisive action” in withdrawing support from Mr Ali in the Rochdale by-election – something he said was “unprecedented”.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the decision, Sir Keir said: “I took decisive action. It is a huge thing to withdraw support for a Labour candidate during the course of a by-election.
“It is a tough decision, a necessary decision, but when I say the Labour Party has changed under my leadership, I mean it.”
He described the comments made by Mr Ali as “appalling”, but doubled down on his actions, saying: “It is virtually unprecedented to withdraw support for a candidate in the way that I withdrew support for this candidate yesterday.
“That’s what a changed Labour Party is all about.”
But Sara Britcliffe, the Conservative MP for Hyndburn, told Guido Fawkes: “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.”