Some 90 senior members of Britain’s opposition Labour Party have urged its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to expel a lawmaker accused of being an apologist for anti-Semitism.
The demand came soon after the party lifted its suspension of Chris Williamson, a Corbyn ally who had been filmed telling a meeting that the party was “too apologetic” and had “given too much ground” in its response to anti-Semitism allegations. Labour has been split apart by claims that the party has become hostile to Jews under the far-left Corbyn, a harsh Israel critic and longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause.
Deputy leader Tom Watson posted a statement signed by 90 Labour lawmakers on Twitter Thursday, calling on Corbyn to “show leadership by asking for this inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed.”
The signatories, among whom were MPs and peers, said they felt “hurt and anger” over the decision and raised questions about “the fairness of the process.”
“It is clear to us that the Labour Party’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance on political interference. This must stop. We need a truly independent process,” the letter stated.
It also said the case was “particularly important” due to the ongoing investigation into anti-Semitism in Labour by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government watchdog that is looking into thousands of cases of anti-Semitic hate speech in the party’s ranks since 2015.
“Ultimately, it is for Jeremy Corbyn to decide whether Chris Williamson retains the Labour whip. He must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking antisemitism seriously,” the letter said.
Statement on Chris Williamson pic.twitter.com/WGYx9os2A0
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) June 27, 2019
Watson told Sky News he was “bewildered” by the reinstatement and that the letter’s signatories were “shocked by it because we know the offense caused by Chris Williamson to the Jewish community in Britain.”
Corbyn told reporters he was not involved in Williamson’s reinstatement and defended the party’s handling of anti-Semitism, saying Labour takes the issue “very, very seriously.”
“Anyone that makes anti-Semitic remarks can expect to be at the very least reprimanded and, if they are very serious and they engage in antisemitic activity, then they are expelled from the party,” he was quoted as saying by Sky.
Williamson, an MP from Derby North, was reinstated Wednesday after being suspended in February pending an ethics review.
The remark he was suspended for was another twist in a three-year saga over the proliferation of anti-Semitic hate speech in Labour’s ranks and internal splits on whether to address the problem.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the suspension was “the right move, if long overdue.” Its vice president, Amanda Bowman, called the reinstatement an “utter disgrace” and “yet more damning evidence” for the rights commission inquiry.
Since his election in 2015 to head Labour, Corbyn has fought allegations that his critical attitude toward Israel and alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism have injected Jew-hatred into the heart of the party.
In 2009, Corbyn called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and said that Hamas is working to achieve peace and justice. In 2013, he defended an anti-Semitic mural. In 2014, he laid flowers on the graves of Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. The following year he said British “Zionists” don’t understand British irony.
Williamson in February booked a room in Parliament for a screening of a film by activist Jackie Walker titled “Witch Hunt” about her suspension from Labour over anti-Semitism.
Earlier that month, nine lawmakers quit the party, criticizing the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism. One of them, Luciana Berger, tweeted in response to Williamson’s words, saying “This is what I have left behind. It’s toxic.”