‘What exactly has Labour MP Chris Williamson done to offend Jews?’ Here’s a long list

We believe that - at the very least - Mr Williamson is guilty of Jew-baiting

June 27, 2019 15:31

The announcement that Chris Williamson has been readmitted to the Labour party has been met with some predictable responses.

There has been anger from the mainstream Jewish community – not the indignant fury born of surprise, but rather the reaction of fuel that is heaped on an already white-hot rage.

Then there are the “this is not the party I know and love” episodes of hand-wringing from decent Labour activists and MPs who nonetheless continue to deny, against all evidence, that their party is irredeemably broken.

And then there is a third group – the people who are celebrating. Those on the far-left who deny that the MP for Derby North has done anything wrong.

Apart from celebrating his return, the other thing they are doing is challenging those upset about the decision to provide evidence that Mr Williamson has ever done anything wrong.

The vast majority of such people are not asking for such proof in good faith. Any and all examples provided to them will be dismissed.

But who knows? Perhaps, even now, there are people out there who are genuinely convinced that Mr Williamson is innocent. People who have read nothing but articles in far-left outlets like the Canary or Skwawkbox, or statements by far-left fringe groups such as “Jewish Voice for Labour” or “Labour Against the Witchhunt”, which repeatedly seek to absolve the Derby North MP of all wrongdoing. People who might genuinely be willing to read something contrary to what they believe and admit that they were wrong. If such people do in fact exist, this article is for you.

What Mr Williamson has done

The issue that many Jews have with the MP for Derby North centres around three types of activity:

  1. He has repeatedly sought to downplay or dismiss antisemitism in the Labour party.

  2. He has repeatedly supported and defended individuals who have made deeply controversial and sometimes overtly antisemitic statements.
  3. He has gone out of his way to attack one of the Jewish community’s key representative organisations.

Put this all together, and we believe that at the very least Mr Williamson is guilty of Jew-baiting.

Seeking to downplay or dismiss antisemitism in the Labour party

Over the last few years, the JC has seen thousands of examples of antisemitism from within the Labour party. This antisemitism has been demonstrated at all levels of the party – from regular members to vocal activists to political representatives. A wide cross-section of such examples have been covered by the JC, both online and in print.

To deny that Labour has an antisemitism problem is egregious. Even senior Labour figures on the left of the party, including John McDonnell, have acknowledged that the party has a problem.

But Mr Williamson has repeatedly denied the problem. In a 2017 interview with the Guardian, he described antisemitism as “bullsh**” and smears”.

A year later, he defended Labour activists who had used language "perceived as antisemitic”, telling an audience in Liverpool  that some in the party had "allowed their passion to run away" and expressed themselves in "a light which could be perceived as antisemitic... I don't believe they are antisemites." He said attempts to take action against such “activists in the Labour party” was “sinister”.

The action which led to him being suspended was a video of Mr Williamson speaking at a Momentum in which he suggested that Labour was being “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.

He suggested that Labour’s actions were partly to blame for this “demonisation”, suggesting that the party had “given too much ground…been too apologetic” when accused of bigotry, and claiming that Labour had “done more to address the scourge of antisemitism than any other party”.

But when it comes to dismissing Labour antisemitism, Mr Williamson is hardly alone in the party. Prominent Labour members who have publicly done so in the past, for example, include Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, and Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union. Which brings us to our next point.

Supporting and defended individuals who have made deeply antisemitic statements

One of the most clear-cut example of Mr Williamson standing up for an antisemite was his defence, in April 2018, of a man called Scott Nelson, who was expelled from the Labour party after tweeting about companies “oppressing global workers” like Tesco and Marks & Spencers, which he said were “Jewish companies”, having “Jewish blood”.

At first, Mr Williamson denied that Mr Nelson had made the comments. When presented with evidence of the comments, his response was to claim that Mr Nelson had “repeatedly apologised for those comments. He is opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry…please give him a chance.”

Mr Williamson has also publicly defended Jackie Walker, who was first suspended in 2016 for saying that Jews were “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. Readmitted after a few months, she was suspended again after incorrectly claiming that Holocaust Memorial Day only commemorated Jewish victims and not other genocides, as well as saying that she “still hadn’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with.” She was finally expelled from the party in March this year.

Prior to that expulsion, Mr Williamson had said he would be “absolutely delighted” if Ms Walker were to be allowed to rejoin Labour, describing how “we’ve got these ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way.

“Jackie is one, and Ken Livingstone is yet another.”

Mr Livingstone was suspended from the party in 2016, after claiming that Hitler was "supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."

In May 2018, Mr Livingstone resigned from the Labour party, claiming he was quitting because his case had become a "distraction" for Labour. Mr Williamson responded by describing him as “a towering figure of the Labour movement. He popularised progressive socialism and was labelled a 'Loony Lefty' nearly 40 years ago for his efforts to champion public services, stand up for marginalised groups and fight all forms of racism.”

In December last year, Mr Williamson signed and shared a petition defending a notorious antisemite, Gilad Atzmon, after Islington council banned him from performing at a venue (Mr Atzmon is also a jazz musician). A self-described “self-hating Jew”, Mr Atzmon’s statements and writings include the claim that “Jewish ideology is driving our planet into catastrophe” and “I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act.”

Mr Williamson later apologised, claiming he had been unaware of Mr Atzmon’s history of “antisemitic language”. He did not explain why he had any interest in a protest about a jazz musician banned from playing at a venue by a Labour council 100 miles away from his own constituency.

The list goes on. Marc Wadsworth was suspended from the Labour party after, at the publication launch of the Chakrabarti report into Labour antisemtiism, he accused a Jewish Labour MP of working “hand in hand” with a right-wing newspaper like the Telegraph, leading her to flee the room in tears.

After Mr Wadsworth was expelled in May 2018, Mr Williamson said Mr Wadsworth had been "expelled for asking a question at a press conference", which the MP called “plainly absurd”.

"I gave evidence on his behalf at the original NCC [National Constitutional Committee] hearing a couple of months ago and was shocked by the outcome,” Mr Williamson said of Mr Wadsworth's explusion.

“The decision was inconsistent with the evidence."

Pete Willsman, a member of Labour’s National Executive committee, was recorded claiming that a group of 68 British rabbis of all denominations who had criticised antisemitism in Labour were making false claims, saying he was “not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all”. He also claimed he had never seen antisemitism in Labour.

Mr Willsman had been standing as a candidate for re-election to the NEC when the tape was published by the JC.

While even a number of people on the far-left, unable to ignore the recording, publicly withdrew their support for him, Mr Williamson doubled down, reiterating his support for the full slate on which Mr Willsman had been a part, putting his name at the top of the list of those he was backing.

Then there was the case of Cyril Chilson, who was expelled from the Labour party. Mr Chilson had responded to a tweet from Gilad Atzmon about the need to “find the political means to emancipate British politics from the Jewish lobbies and its influence”. Mr Chilson responded, “we can always start from a campaign against private bankrolling of our political parties. State funding might be the answer.”

Mr Atzmon responded: “Jew funding is my answer…Once we look into this we save the west or what is left of it.”

Mr Chilson replied by recommending Mr Atzmon start by checking out “who is bankrolling the Tories.”

Last August, Mr Williamson declared that “Cyril should not have been expelled.”

Space prevents further examples from being discussed, but further examples do exist.

Attacking one of the Jewish community’s key representative organisations

Mr Williamson has gone out of his way to target the Board of Deputies of British Jews, one of the main organisations representing Jews in the UK.

In October last year, just hours after a gunman in Pittsburgh murdered Jews in a synagogue, he shared an article from a far-left website, Skwawkbox, accusing the Board of Deputies president, Marie van der Zyl, of using an “antisemitic trope”. 

When a Jewish constituent of Mr Williamson told him on Twitter how upset she was at his response in the wake of such a tragedy, he blocked her.

The previous month, two organisations had released statements condemning the decision of Conservative Members of the European Parliament to support Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, who had previously used extreme Islamophobic and antisemitic rhetoric in a number of speeches. One organisation said it was “disappointed” with the Conservative MEP’s decision while the other said the behaviour was “deeply disappointing.”

With regard to the first, Mr Williamson said “I would have thought ‘outrage’ would have been a more appropriate adjective rather than ‘disappointment’. The second organisation’s statement, by contrast, he described as “spot on”.

The first organisation was the Board of Deputies. The second was the Muslim Council of Britain. It is unclear why Mr Williamson felt “disappointing” was the incorrect adjective for the Board to use, but not for the MCB.

Mr Williamson’s other behaviour

There are, of course, other examples of highly disturbing behaviour of Mr Williamson. When the then-Labour MP, Ian Austin, said he was intending to ask Labour to investigate and deal with allegations of antisemitism at Oxford University Labour club in 2016, Mr Williamson’s response was to say “I hope they won’t find any such evidence” and to ask Mr Austin if he had seen a “brutal” example of an Israeli soldier mistreating a Palestinian on Channel 4.

He has also expressed support for Vanessa Beeley, an infamous apologist for the Assad regime, whose response to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox was to call her “a warmongering Blairite”. Mr Williamson described it as " a privilege to hear her speak...about her experiences of reporting from Syria."

If you look at the evidence, at the very least it is clear that Mr Williamson is guilty of Jew baiting.

But as I wrote at the beginning, most people demanding evidence of Mr Williamson’s disturbing activity do not do so in good faith. They will find a way to explain away each and every example of his awful behaviour.

But perhaps some will have the good grace to admit they are wrong.

I will not, however, hold my breath.  

June 27, 2019 15:31

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