Labour NEC member apologises as pressure mounts on Corbyn in anti-Semitism row

- Advertisement -

Jeremy Corbyn is facing pressure to act after a member of the Labour Party’s ruling body was recorded making “disgusting” comments about Jews.

Peter Willsman called some members of the Jewish community “Trump fanatics” and suggested they were “making up” problems about anti-Semitism in the party.

He subsequently apologised, acknowledging the “offensive nature of my comments”, and has referred himself for equalities training.

But Jewish leaders have called for Labour to expel the National Executive Committee (NEC) member and raised questions about whether the party leader was present at the meeting where the comments were made.

Labour former minister Yvette Cooper said Mr Willsman’s remarks were “appalling” and urged Mr Corbyn to ask him to stand down as a candidate in internal party elections.

She told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme: “We do need action and also, what would be really helpful is, given that we are in an election for the NEC at the moment, I think it would be very helpful if Jeremy Corbyn could ask Pete Willsman to stand down from those elections, because I think that would actually help us make clear that the Labour Party is going to take seriously anti-Semitism in future.”

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson described the National Executive Committee member as a “loud-mouthed bully”, while Jewish Labour Movement chairwoman Luciana Berger said the comments were “sickening”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, made up of almost 300 deputies directly elected by synagogues and community organisations, said Labour had let Mr Willsman off lightly by not taking disciplinary action against him.

President Marie van der Zyl questioned whether Mr Corbyn and party general secretary Jennie Formby had witnessed the outburst at a meeting of the NEC.

She pointed to the swift move to take disciplinary action against Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin over their reaction to the handling of anti-Semitism in the party.

In a series of tweets, she said: “Now Peter Willsman’s disgusting rant against Jewish community & rabbis has been made public by @JewishChron, & what seems to be lying exposed about what he did & didn’t say, he should be summarily expelled.

“Was Jennie Formby there to hear what was said? If yes, why did she let Willsman off so lightly?

“Why has it been so easy to clear Willsman after his slurs against the Jewish community, but anti-racist MPs @MargaretHodge & @IanAustinMP are still being put through the ringer?

“Was Jeremy Corbyn there to hear Willsman? If so, what form did his professed ‘militant opposition’ to anti-Semitism take when he heard it?”

In a statement, Mr Willsman – whose NEC place is up for re-election over the summer – said he “deeply regretted” his behaviour.

“Having sat on the NEC for many years, I am of course aware of appalling instances of anti-Semitism within our party, and am wholly determined to rooting it out of our movement,” he said.

“I do not believe anti-Semitism is ‘widespread’ in the Labour Party, and that was what my comments were trying to refer to, but we do have a problem which needs stamping out. One anti-Semite is one too many.

“I recognise the offensive nature of my comments and that in diminishing the experiences of those who face anti-Semitism in our party and society, I showed a lack of the sensitivity required for discussions around racism.

“I will be referring myself to receive equalities training so I can better understand how to approach discussions of such issues in a respectful way.”

In the clip acquired by the Jewish Chronicle, Mr Willsman can be heard saying with a raised voice: “Some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump, they are Trump fanatics and all the rest of it.

“So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up information without any evidence at all.

“So I think we should ask the 70 rabbis, ‘Where is your evidence of severe and widespread anti-Semitism in this party?’.”

In an open letter earlier this month, 68 rabbis called on Labour to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, including examples.

They said anti-Semitism within “sections of the Labour Party” had become “so severe and widespread that we must speak out with one Jewish voice”.

But the NEC did not include all of the illustrative examples set out by the IHRA.

Labour insisted that, while they were not reproduced word for word, they are covered in the new code.

In a separate recording, obtained by Sky News, Mr Willsman told a July 2016 NEC meeting how he discussed aspects of the Chakrabarti report on anti-Semitism with Mr Corbyn.

Mr Willsman reportedly told the meeting that Mr Corbyn had asked him to “text me the recommendations in Shami’s report we need to be a bit careful about”.

The Chakrabarti report – which had already been published by the time of Mr Willsman’s reported comments at the NEC – was condemned as a “whitewash” by critics.

Meanwhile, Fife councillor Mary Lockhart has been suspended from Scottish Labour after suggesting in a Facebook post that criticism of Labour’s position on anti-Semitism could have been orchestrated by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Latest Stories

- Advertisement -

UK News

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Read the latest free supplements

Read the Town Crier, Le Rocher and a whole host of other subjects like mortgage advice, business, cycling, travel and property.