Labour MP sorry for backing musician accused of anti-Semitism

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Labour MP Chris Williamson has apologised for tweeting in support of a jazz musician his own party labelled a “vile anti-Semite”.

Islington Council had banned Gilad Atzmon from playing with the Blockheads at a performance at the Islington Assembly Hall tonight.

They said the 55-year-old saxophonist’s appearance alongside Ian Dury’s former band “might harm” relationships with the north London borough’s religious communities.

Mr Williamson, a former shadow minister under Jeremy Corbyn, posted a link to a petition to get him reinstated this morning, alongside the caption: “Hands off Gilad Atzmon – sign the petition!”

Chris Williamson tweeted in support of Gilad Atzmon, before deleting the post (Twitter)

The Derby North MP said: “Earlier today I tweeted a petition about an Islington Council ban against the Blockheads performing with their chosen line up. The council has blocked jazz musician Gilad Atzmon from playing with the group.

“Since then I’ve learned that Atzmon, a former Israeli soldier, is not confined to the jazz world. I am told that in various blogs and in speeches he has adopted anti-Semitic language.

“I wasn’t aware of this until after I tweeted the petition. As soon as I was informed, I deleted the tweet. I’ve always condemned all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, and strongly disassociate myself from Atzmon’s anti-Semitic views.

“I therefore apologise for tweeting this petition and any distress or offence it may have caused.”

And a Labour spokesman said: “Gilad Atzmon is a vile anti-Semite. Chris Williamson has said he was not aware of Atzmon‘s appalling views and rightly apologised for his tweet.”

Mr Atzmon has been accused of anti-Semitism on a number of occasions, having written in an essay in 2003 called “On Anti-Semitism” that “we must begin to take the accusation that Zionists are trying to control the world very seriously”.

In an article on his website in 2010 he asked: “We should also ask for what purpose do the Holocaust denial laws serve? What is the Holocaust religion there to conceal?”

Despite Mr Williamson’s apology, the Jewish Labour Movement called for him to be suspended from the party.

A spokesman said: “Gilad Atzmon is an anti-Semite. Chris Williamson is a Jew baiter. Supporting Atzmon is baiting Jews.

“And Chris Williamson has been baiting Jews in the party for too long unchecked. No more ifs or buts.

“We expect Chris Williamson to be suspended from the Labour Party today.”

The campaign group Labour Against Antisemitism tweeted: “There can be no equivocation: Chris Williamson MP must have his membership of Labour withdrawn today.”

And the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was “time for Labour to withdraw the whip from Chris Williamson”.

Labour MP Wes Streeting tweeted: “Chris has now apologised, as he should.

“Presumably it was just a love of jazz that led him to sign and share a petition defending someone with anti-Semitic form – apparently without even checking why the Council (a LABOUR Council) took the step of banning him in the first place.”

The row began when Islington Council, which owns the Assembly Hall, rejected an appeal from Mr Atzmon against its decision to block him from performing.

It said in a statement: “Under the Equality Act, the council must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to foster good relations between different races and religions within the borough.

“The council took account of the fact Mr Atzmon’s presence at the hall, and knowledge of his presence among residents, might harm such relationships, as well as the council’s duty to tackle prejudice and promote understanding.”

Speaking to the Islington Gazette, Mr Atzmon accused the council of having “adopted the role of book burners”.

More than 3,000 people have signed the petition calling for the decision to be reversed.

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