Community leaders have called for action against Labour MP Chris Williamson – after he shared a platform with suspended activist Jackie Walker.
The politician spoke at a Momentum-organised event in Peterborough on Saturday, despite local MP Fiona Onasanya pulling out last week, citing “concerns” over the speakers.
Walker was suspended by Labour over allegedly anti-Semitic comments in 2016, and dropped as Momentum vice chair, She performed her show ‘The Lynching’ before Williamson addressed the audience.
The Labour MP said it was a “real pleasure and a privilege” to be sharing a platform with Walker, adding that he’d be “absolutely delighted” if Jackie was let back in the Labour Party.
He continued, to rapturous applause, to condemn Labour’s action against claims of anti-Semitism, which include Walker and former mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who was suspended after claiming Hitler had ‘supported Zionism. Williamson said: “We’ve got these ridiculous suspensions and expulsions from the party… in the most grotesque and unfair way.”
“Jackie is one, and Ken Livingstone is yet another..”
Williamson also asked “why no action was taken against John Mann when he verbally abused and physically harassed [Ken Livingstone] in the most intimidating way in front of TV camera crew”. You can watch his speech here.
Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush said: ““Sadly, this is the kind of behaviour we have come to expect from Chris Williamson. We called for him to be sacked last year from the shadow cabinet over outrageous comments labelling claims of antisemitism in Labour ‘a dirty lowdown trick’.
His actions since have confirmed that he is an embarrassment to his own party and the Party should consider further sanctions against Mr Williamson, including a public rebuke and the removal of the Labour whip.”
Jewish Leadership Council CEO Simon Johnson, said: “It never ceases to amaze me when so called anti racists switch so seamlessly into attacking and demonising Israel. Do they not realise the irony? Do they not see that denying the right of the Jewish state, Israel, to exist is antisemitic and therefore racist? Or does their anti-racism extend to everyone except Jews? You can see now why many Jews are rightly suspicious of such anti-racism events.”
Mark Gardner of the CST told Jewish News: “If you want to understand mainstream Jewish communal fears about the Labour Party, Chris Williamson MP’s defence of Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone is a good place to start: as is his attack on John Mann MP, who sits on the opposite end of Labour’s stance on these issues.”
A Labour Party spokesperson told the Jewish News the party is: “committed to challenging and campaigning against anti-Semitism in all its forms.
“Any complaints of anti-Semitism are taken extremely seriously. These are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action taken.”
Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “Chris Williamson’s comments and his decision to appear with Jackie Walker are absolutely disgraceful. Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to condemn these actions shows once again his tolerance for those who deny that Labour has a serious and ongoing problem with antisemitism in its ranks.”
Ivor Caplin, Jewish Labour Movement spokesperson said: “After Chris Williamson MP said some ignorant things last year, we met him and asked him to stop marginalising Jewish party members’ experiences of antisemitism, and get with the vast majority of the Labour movement who want to challenge antisemitism, racism and discrimination. He apologised to us at the time.
“It seems that in his desire for infamy, Mr Williamson has decided to take a leaf out of Ken Livingstone’s book, and is deliberately doing and saying things he knows all too well are going to be hurtful and unhelpful. If he can’t stop, he needs to go.”