Jewish leaders have urged that a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn be expelled from Labour, after she was filmed making unguarded comments about Holocaust commemoration and anti-Semitism.
Jackie Walker, who is Jewish, was removed as vice-chair of influential left-wing group Momentum after she was recorded in conversation with Jewish groups backstage at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. She has been suspended from Labour and may still face disciplinary sanction from the party.
This is the second such incident in a year for Walker, who was suspended by Labour earlier this year for suggesting Jews financed the slave trade, only to be readmitted at a hearing.
Off-stage at an anti-Semitism training event in Liverpool, she was recorded asking why Holocaust Memorial Day did not include other genocides (it does). She was also heard questioning why Jewish schools need security and saying that she is yet to find a definition of anti-Semitism that she could “work with”.
The Labour party suspended her soon after the comments were leaked and late last week Momentum’s steering committee voted seven to three to remove her from her position as vice-chair, citing concerns.
“Jackie’s actions at Labour conference, in her subsequent Channel 4 interview, and by not understanding concern caused by her statements, have led [us] to view her behaviour as irresponsible and lose confidence in her as vice chair,” they said.
The campaign group added that while they did not consider her comments anti-Semitic, but instead found them to be “ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive”.
They added: “Jackie should have done more to explain herself to mitigate the upset caused and should have been careful about statements on this and related subjects, whatever her record as an anti-racist, which the committee applauds.”
Simon Johnson, Chief Executive of the JLC told Jewish News: “Jackie Walker has rightly been stripped of her position as vice chair. With leadership comes responsibility and she has failed to show responsibility with her repeated use of hurtful language towards the Jewish community. Sadly, she has continually looked to disrupt rather than engage and taking action against her will restore some much needed integrity to the Labour Party.”
However, she remains a member of Momentum’s steering committee, and the group castigated those who filmed and leaked the private discussions, saying this “undermined much-needed political education”.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone – himself set to be removed from his position on Labour’s National Executive Committee – jumped to Walker’s defence, saying: “There’s a difference between ignorance and anti-Semitism.”
However Labour MP John Mann, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism, said the comments were “unacceptable”.
Walker said whoever leaked the footage “had malicious intent,” and that she was anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. “Zionism is a political ideology, and like any political ideology, some people will be supportive and some people won’t be supportive of it. That’s a very different thing.”
Commenting on the ongoing disciplinary investigation, a spokesman for the Jewish Labour Movement said: “This is a small step in the right direction. We now await the outcome of the Party’s own disciplinary process with interest.”
Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl said: “We welcome the removal of Jackie Walker as vice chair of Momentum as well as her suspension from the Labour Party. It is a clear acknowledgement that her comments about Holocaust Memorial Day and anti-Semitism were crass, ignorant and wholly unacceptable.”
She added: “Anti-Semitism is a real, substantial problem in UK politics. Any suggestion that it is somehow an exaggerated or ‘weaponised’ issue is therefore deeply offensive. We call on the Labour Party to expel her once and for all.”