A Labour shadow minister has sparked fury after suggesting criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the party’s antisemitism crisis were “smears” and a “really dirty, lowdown trick”.
Chris Williamson, Shadow Fire Minister and an ally of Mr Corbyn, suggested the rows over the Labour leader’s response to Jew-hate allegations were “bulls***”.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Williamson said: “I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears.
“Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.
“It is pretty repellent to use that to attack somebody like Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog.
“But I feel people have stopped listening to the smears and lies and dirty tricks.
“I think for all the talk about Venezuela and antisemitism, and the latest thing is sexism now, Jeremy’s overwhelming landslide victories in the leadership elections and the general election mean people have stopped listening to the smears.”
Responding to Mr Williamson’s comments, Marie van der Zyl, Board of Deputies vice-president, said: “The Jewish community would expect a Labour MP and shadow minister like Chris Williamson to show solidarity with those suffering racism within his own party rather than blaming the victims.
“After a second failure on equalities issues in a week, the Labour leadership should consider whether Williamson is a suitable person to serve as a front-bench spokesperson.”
Sam Stopp, a Jewish Labour Movement member and councillor in Brent, north-west London, described Mr Williamson’s comments as “deplorable”.
A Jewish Leadership Council spokesman said: “It is important that the Labour Party takes the issues of antisemitism seriously and we were extremely concerned by the dismissive nature of the comments made by Chris Williamson in this Guardian interview.
“It is deplorable for an acting member of Labour’s shadow cabinet to downplay a sentiment felt by the majority of British Jews. Allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party did not come from thin air, and many within the party are currently still being thoroughly investigated.
"While these investigations are ongoing, the issue must be considered properly and responsibly.
“It is our hope that appropriate action is taken against Mr Williamson for making such thoughtless comments, and we will be monitoring the situation closely.”
A Jewish Labour Movement spokesman said: “In the past two years there have been three inquiries into antisemitism in the Labour Party, one commissioned by the leader of the Labour Party.
"For a member of the frontbench to claim there is no issue belittles the Jewish community and the Labour Party. The Jewish Labour Movement calls on Mr Williamson to reconsider his ill-judged comments.”
Responding to criticism of his remarks, Mr Williamson said: “I absolutely did not and never would blame the victims of antisemitism or any form or racism and bigotry.
"Antisemitism is utterly repugnant and a scourge on society, which is why I stand in absolute solidarity with anyone who is subjected to antisemitic abuse. The point I was trying to make is that accusations have on occasions been used for factional or party political ends.”
Mr Williamson has repeatedly shown support for Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London, who remains suspended from the party for his comments about Hitler and Zionism.
In February 2016, the Derby North MP reacted to claims of antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club by tweeting: “I hope they won’t find any evidence.”
Last week Mr Williamson caused controversy when he suggested there was “some merit” to the idea of women-only train carriages.
He has also called for a return to mandatory reselection of Labour MPs and said of centrist colleagues that “if they are neoliberals, they shouldn’t be with us”.