For some time, it has been undeniable that the Labour Party has lost its status as an anti-racist organisation. Following the Party’s failure to expel Ken Livingstone a full year after his statements claiming that Hitler supported Zionism, 107 of its MPs felt moved to sign a statement declaring: “We stand with the Jewish community and British society against this insidious racism. This was not done in our name and we will not allow it to go unchecked.” Nearly five months on, nothing has changed.
The handling of Ken Livingstone’s case is merely one item in a sad litany of incidents involving not just rank and file so-called ‘hard-left’ members of the party, but candidates and elected officers of the party, virtually all of which have been shown to be antisemitic under the terms of the International Definition of Antisemitism, adopted by the UK Government and accepted by the Labour Party. However, even when these incidents have (rarely) resulted in a disciplinary process, the cases and their outcomes have been obscured under the terms of the Chakrabarti report, a whitewash of antisemitism in Labour that supresses transparency.
What is more, these incidents have taken place against a backdrop of leading figures of the party, including Diane Abbott, Len McLuskey as well as Ken Livingstone, declaring that allegations of antisemitism in Labour constitute nothing more than a disingenuous political attack on the leadership of the Labour Party, despite Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Chief Rabbi and almost all of the other major organisations of the British Jewish community making clear their concerns that many of these incidents were indeed antisemitic.
This is a record that should leave any political party hanging its head in shame. Therefore for Chris Williamson, the MP for Derby North and Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, to assert in an interview with The Guardian that — with very few exceptions — controversies over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour were “proxy wars and bulls***” and the result of a “really dirty, low-down trick” seem astonishing.
Whereas the comments of Abbott and McLuskey imply that Jewish complaints of antisemitism are essentially disingenuous and politically motivated, Williamson has now couched that assertion in racist language, redolent of antisemitism. If we take them at face value, Jews’ complaints in this context are “dirty”, “low-down”, “bulls***” and “tricks”.
In addition, Mr Williamson invokes a ‘good Jew, bad Jew’ trope, claiming that “Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends” — in the teeth of contrary evidence that the Jewish community’s support for Labour has ebbed badly under its current leadership, and that our recent polling indicates alarm among UK Jews in relation to Labour antisemitism.
When criticised by Jewish groups, including the Jewish Labour Movement itself, Mr Williamson responded by saying: “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.”
In doing so, Mr Williamson has disingenuously attempted to re-frame what he described as part of an “expected…onslaught” as a phenomenon that occurs only “on occasions”. He has failed to fundamentally address the evidence, the problems associated with Jeremy Corbyn’s past, and his own past problematic behaviour with regard to this issue, nor has he apologised for his own repugnant use of language. He has failed to explain how his comments are supposed to be interpreted with regard to those who point out that antisemitic incidents in the Labour Party are both widespread and abundantly evidenced under the terms of the International Definition of Antisemitism that his own party has accepted.
It is very hard to see how Mr Williamson stands “in absolute solidarity” with Jews subjected to antisemitic abuse, when he himself, as things stand, is characterising those in our community who complain of it as “dirty, low-down trick[sters]”.
Should he continue to stand by his comments, then they could be construed as antisemitic under the International Definition of Antisemitism.
We call on Mr Williamson to acknowledge the evidence that antisemitic incidents in the Labour Party are real, widespread and have not been dealt with adequately under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership; to apologise for his use of language and to publicly withdraw his comments.