The Jewish Chronicle
● Last week, John McDonnell said a ‘mammoth listening exercise’ on Jew-hate was required. This week, Labour proved what that meant in reality ● Corbyn refuses to back ban on antisemitic terrorists ● Jew-baiter Williamson suspended only after backlash ●
IN A second tumultuous week for Labour, close Corbyn ally Chris Williamson was finally suspended on Wednesday afternoon — hours after the party had said he would not have the whip withdrawn. Mounting pressure from Labour MPs and Deputy Leader Tom Watson forced a U-turn on the leadership after threats of mass resignations from the party if Mr Williamson was not suspended.
After Luciana Berger’s resignation from Labour last week, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised that the party would undertake a “mammoth, massive listening exercise” to address anger over its failure to tackle antisemitism.
But on Wednesday morning, Jeremy Corbyn sparked fury amongst MPs and Jewish communal organisations after it was initially announced that Mr Williamson would be “investigated” but not suspended after a video emerged of him telling a meeting of the leftwing Momentum group in Sheffield that Labour had been “too apologetic” on antisemitism.
It followed the revelation on Tuesday that Mr Williamson had booked a room in Parliament for the screening of a
film about Jackie Walker, an activist suspended for alleged antisemitism — which a Labour spokesperson spokesperson described as “completely inappropriate”.
On Wednesday, the JC also revealed a recording in which Mr Williamson described the parliamentarians who marched in solidarity with Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth at an antisemitism hearing against a black activist who was later expelled by the party as “white privilege”.
Reacting to Mr Corbyn’s initial refusal to suspend Mr Williamson, Tom Watson publicly demanded that the Labour leader withdraw the whip.He had earlier written to Labour Chief Whip Nick Brown and General Secretary Jennie Formby accusing Mr Williamson of bringing the party into “disrepute” and calling for his expulsion.
After mounting anger among MPs at the failure to suspend him, Mr Corbyn’s office later confirmed the MP was “suspended from the party, and therefore the whip, pending an investigation.”
In the video published by the Yorkshire Post, Mr Williamson told a meeting hosted by Momentum he believed Labour had “given too much ground” over antisemitism.
He suggested Labour’s response to complaints of antisemitism had contributed to the party being “demonised”.
In a separate recording obtained by the JC, he attempted to portray the hearing into the black activist Marc Wadsworth, who was expelled by Labour for bringing the party into disrepute, as an example of “white people trying to shout down a black guy.”
MPs including Luciana Berger, Dame Margaret Hodge and Jess Phillips were photographed walking with Ms Smeeth ahead of last year’s hearing into Mr Wadsworth’s conduct.
Mr Williamson compared it to a film that dramatises the KKK’s murder of civil rights activists, saying: “It looked like a scene out of Mississippi Burning.
“It was disgraceful, absolutely despicable in my opinion.”
Mr Williamson also said he had celebrated the resignation of former Labour MP Joan Ryan, who defected to join the Independent Group of MPs last week, by singing Kool & The Gang’s 1980s pop classic Celebration.
The row over Mr Williamson followed the Labour leadership’s decision on Monday to criticise the government’s proscription of Hezbollah.
In a statement, Labour said the decision was motivated by Mr Javid’s leadership ambitions — and complained that the Home Office had not provided “sufficient” evidence for the ban.
Mr Corbyn has long faced questions about his failure to condemn terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas and his description of them as “friends” — while his closest adviser Seumas Milne has been accused of similar views on the same issue.
Jewish Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge, Dane Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth issued a joint statement condemning the leadership’s move.
They said that Mr Corbyn had promised he would “try and rebuild relations with the Jewish community” but his behaviour over the Hezbollah ban “demonstrates yet again that this is a man who says one thing and does the other.” James Cleverly MP, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “There has long been cross-party cooperation on national security, but Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party continues to reject the values that once united people across the political divide.”
Labour’s Wes Streeting also hit out at Mr Corbyn’s failure to back the ban, saying: “There is a long and proud tradition, a strong and proud social democratic tradition, in the Labour Party of confronting and facing down murderous, hateful ideology.”
On Tuesday, the leadership issued a one-line whip to MPs meaning they did not have to vote on the move to ban Hezbollah — which allowed Mr Corbyn not to have to vote. Meanwhile, there was anger amongst Jewish activists who attended last weekend’s Labour women’s conference in Telford.
In a speech to delegates Dawn Butler said: “[It] is simply not true” that Labour is now an “institutionally racist” party — as has been claimed by Ms Berger and Mike Gapes as they quit Labour last week.
When Ms Butler mentioned the MPs who had quit Labour, delegates at the conference booed.
Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary told the JC this week she “deeply regrets” the decision of Ms Berger to quit the party.
But sources claimed she failed to speak with Ms Berger to listen to her concerns about antisemitism in the Party.
Ms Butler — one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies — was appointed to her role in 2017, in which she is expected to closely monitor issues of alleged discrimination.
But the JC understands that Ms Butler, who was appointed Shadow Minister for
Diverse Communities in 2017, failed to meet
Ms Berger at any stage to allow her to discuss her concerns about rising Jewhatred. The lack of contact with Ms Butler is said by insiders to have been deeply frustrating for Ms Berger — not least because Ms Berger had campaigned for Ms Butler in Brent before becoming an MP.
In a related exchange in the House of Commons days before Ms Berger resigned from Labour, the Party’s junior Shadow Equalities spokeswoman Naz Shah was overheard telling her: “I’m sorry I can’t speak out publicly on these issues.” This is said to have provoked a startled look from the Jewish MP who appeared to ask why Ms Shah felt this way.
Ms Shah suggested the pair discuss the matter further over a coffee.
Ms Berger was then overheard saying: “If you think in your position in particular that you can’t speak out about antisemitism then there nothing for us to discuss.”
The JC revealed last week how Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn openly snubbed Ms Berger, despite the increasingly malicious nature of threats she received from pro-Corbyn activists which eventually saw police being called in to investigate.
Sources say Ms Berger “expected better” from Ms Butler, who is said to have only attempted to speak with Ms Berger one hour before she quit the Party in dramatic fashion at a press conference last Monday.
Prior to that, Ms Berger is believed to have had next to no contact with the Brent Central MP — other than an email requesting that she add her signature to an Early Day Motion in March 2017.
Sources close to Ms Butler insisted this week that she had tried to make contact with Ms Berger and the Jewish Labour Movement in 2016 but no date could be finalised for the meeting.
Ms Butler told the JC: “I deeply regret that Luciana resigned from the Labour Party.
“The antisemitic abuse she received from both within and without our Party is abhorrent, and any members responsible must be dealt with in the strongest terms.
As I said at Labour’s Women’s Conference on Saturday, if you are antisemitic you are not welcome in our party.”
Berger ‘expected better’ from Butler