One of Jeremy Corbyn's closest allies has defended Labour activists who use language "perceived as antisemitic" at a packed meeting of Momentum supporters in Liverpool.
Chris Williamson, the Derby North MP, spoke out on Tuesday night after a left-wing Labour member used a hard-core antisemitic trope to defend Peter Willsman - the disgraced ruling National Executive Committee member exposed on Monday by the JC.
To loud applause, Mr Williamson urged the audience to be "brave" in the face of "sinister" action taken against such "activists in the Labour Party." Mr Williamson said: “I don't believe they are antisemites."
He added 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."
Minutes earlier, a member of the Sefton Constituency Labour Party, known only as Jack, used an openly antisemitic trope, claiming that "Israeli foot soldiers” are attempting to "take our democracy away from us".
In a speech that was given a standing ovation, and the loudest cheer of the night, Jack told the left-wing gathering: “What could be a greater threat to our democracy than a foreign government who is trying to veto the person we want for Prime Minister?
"Of course, I'm talking about the Israelis with their foot soldiers in Labour - the LFI, the JLM. They are trying to take our democracy away from us.
"I was disappointed in the Labour Party's reaction to the smears that have been thrown at the Labour Party. I was disappointed this morning - I was furious this evening because Pete Willsman was forced to retract the statement he made.”
When Mr Williamson returned to speak he failed to challenge the antisemitic conspiracy theory that had been given rapturous applause from the audience.
The MP, a former shadow fire minister under Mr Corbyn, said: "I understand the reasons why some feel cowered."
He added: “I think it was wrong to take the action we did against Ken Livingstone…We should have drawn a line in the sand. Ken has spent his life fighting bigotry, antisemitism and racism."
Mr Williamson also attacked the Board of Deputies and the "self-appointed" Jewish Leadership council. He said: “They don't speak for all Jews in this country - there's Jewish Voice For Labour, there's the Jewish Socialist Group, there's non-aligned Jews."
Admitting "we need to be careful of the language we use", he suggested those who did use antisemitic language should have "political education" with regional officers urged to "put your arms around these people."
I'd arrived at the event at the Quaker Meeting House in Liverpool city centre earlier that evening. Staff offered a friendly welcome and directed me to the upstairs room in which the meeting took place – but outside the door of the first floor office a woman who said she was from Merseyside Momentum quizzed me on how I knew about the event .
I said I had seen an advert on Facebook and had been visting Liverpool on business and thought I would enjoy hearing Mr Williamson speak about “democratic reforms” in Labour before returning to London.
She told me to take a seat inside.
During the event, speakers including Walton MP Dan Carden repeatedly attacked the Parliamentary Labour Party. And there was widespread anger from the audience about "smears" that have dogged Mr Corbyn's leadership.
Mr Williamson suggested the "ruling class are throwing everything" at the Labour leader to stop him coming to power.
He also said he supported mandatory deselection of MPs. At one stage the chair of Dame Louise Ellman's Riverside Constituency Labour Party (CLP) called for her to be replaced.
Other speakers - including Nina Houghton, secretary of Luciana Berger's Wavertree CLP, and the chair of Walton CLP, Mary Doolin, also backed calls for the deselection of elected representatives.
Ms Houghton, who declared herself to be a feminist, claimed that Liverpool's Jewish female MPs were not pro-women enough.
She also backed calls for greater representation of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) individuals in Liverpool Labour - but faced embarrassment when a black woman in the audience pointed out that the entire panel of speakers was white.
Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, told the JC on Wednesday: "It is absolutely disgraceful that a Labour party member would accuse fellow members of having dual loyalty, indulging in the language of antisemitic conspiracy theories.
"Sadly, the use of such antisemitic tropes is becoming increasingly normalised and it is troubling that Chris Williamson MP, having heard these remarks, did not take the opportunity to condemn them in any way. LFI will be lodging formal complaints against the individual who made these comments with both the Labour Party and Momentum.”