The Guardian has launched an investigation and withdrawn a letter, reportedly from “prominent” members of the Jewish community, supporting Chris Williamson.
Expelled Labour members Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker were among more than 100 signatories of the letter, published on Monday.
Its publication sparked anger within the Jewish community, with the Board of Deputies criticising the Guardian’s description of the signatories as “prominent members of the Jewish community, in the UK and abroad,” describing that characterisation as “inaccurate and misleading”.
In a letter of complaint published on Tuesday morning, the Board said several signatories had been expelled from Labour during the antisemitism crisis to have hit the party in the past four years.
The Board said one signatory had “called for Zionists to be exterminated” while another claimed to represent the Jewish Labour Movement despite the JLM being categorical in its opposition to Williamson’s readmission.
“The Guardian has a duty to conduct due diligence on the signatories of letters it publishes, especially on one relating to such a serious issue as racism,” the Board said.
“In this case, the inclusion of racist signatories ought to have stopped the publication of the letter. Should it choose to publish such a letter, the Guardian has a duty to describe it accurately. To describe the signatories of this letter as ‘prominent members of the Jewish community’ is inaccurate and misleading.”
A Guardian News & Media spokesperson told Jewish News in wake of complaints: “We have taken down the letter pending investigation.”
The letter, which urges the Labour Party to reinstate Williamson, was signed by several well-known signatories, including Professor Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, and US academics Noam Chomsky and Norman Finklestein.
One signatory claimed to sign on behalf of Hope Not Hate (HNH), which the anti-racism group took issue with. Taking to Twitter, they said “We have no knowledge of the person listed in this letter, we don’t know on what grounds they think they’re entitled to use our name but they are not”. They contacted the Guardian requesting it be removed.
Williamson was suspended after being filmed commenting on the Labour Party’s approach to the antisemitism row to have engulfed it. His case was heard by a three-person panel of Labour’s National Executive Committee, which decided not to refer it to the Party’s National Constitutional Committee, which has expulsion powers.
The ensuing furore over that decision led to more than 120 Labour parliamentarians penning an open letter criticising the outcome, and two days after Williamson’s suspension was rescinded it was reinstated.
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