An audio recording has emerged of a senior member of the UK Labour party telling an executive committee meeting that allegations of anti-Semitism in the party are being made up by “Jewish Trump fanatics,” as the party continues to be roiled by accusations of tolerating anti-Jewish sentiment.
Peter Willsman made the comments during a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee earlier this month when it approved controversial new guidelines on anti-Semitism, according to the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, which published the recording on Monday.
A series of scandals and controversies relating to anti-Semitism have ensnared Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, culminating with its policy on anti-Semitism which has been condemned — including by members of the party– for omitting Israel-related definitions that have become standard elsewhere and for not embracing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
According to the report, Corbyn, who has been accused of not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, was at the July 17 meeting, at which Willsman also claimed he had not seen any evidence of anti-Jewish sentiment in the movement.
The recording begins with Willsman, a member of the NEC and secretary of the Campaign For Labour Democracy group, saying, “They can falsify social media very easily.”
“And some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump, they are Trump fanatics and all the rest of it,” continues Williams, who sounding increasingly agitated. “So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff [invalid] information without any evidence at all.”
“So I think we should ask the 70 rabbis ‘where is your evidence of severe and widespread antisemitism in this Party?’” Willsman said referring to an open letter signed by 68 rabbis decrying anti-Semitism in Labour and calling on the party to accept the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
“Let me ask you, let me ask you a question,” Willsman says, speaking over audible objections from others present, “how many people in this room have seen anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?”
“Put your hands up…one, two – you’ve had anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? I’m amazed,” he said after some apparently indicated they have. “I’ve certainly never seen it.”
Willsman later apologized for the remarks and although two complaints were filed following the incident — including one from the Jewish Labour Movement, a Jewish group within the party — he was not disciplined.
Labour MP Luciana Berger, who listened to the recording, called for Willsman to be suspended and for the party to hold a “formal investigation,” the Jewish Chronicle reported.
“Anyone listening to this recording will be appalled to hear the venom and fury directed by Mr. Willsman at the British Jewish community,” said Berger, who is parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.
“That he accuses the Jewish community of falsifying social media and being ‘Trump fanatics’ in order to deny the serious concerns of 68 rabbis beggars belief,” Berger said. She noted that two Labour councilors have been suspended in the past week over suspicions of anti-Semitism and that party is investigating over 250 other complaints of anti-Semitic abuse.
Berger has herself been the victim of online anti-Semitism and threats.
Deputy Labor leader Tom Watson on Monday responded to the recording by tweeting: “For the avoidance of doubt: Peter Willsman is and always has been a loud mouthed bully. He disgusts me.”
For the avoidance of doubt: Peter Willsman is and always has been a loud mouthed bully. He disgusts me. https://t.co/FwyMZYsaMq
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) July 30, 2018
Willsman is currently a candidate in elections for Constituency Labour Party places in the NEC.
At the end of last week, Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby informed Willsman that she had accepted an apology he sent to her and that there would be no investigation.
Formby wrote to the Jewish Labor Movement to say that she contacted Willsman “reminding him about the high standard of conduct we expect from all members – particularly those serving on the party’s governing body,” the UK’s Independent newspaper reported Tuesday.
“I have made clear any repetition of similar conduct is likely to result in formal disciplinary action,” Formby wrote to the JLM.
In his apology, apparently written before the audiotape was published, Willsman stated that “not all of what I said has been accurately reported,” the Independent reported.
“But I accept that what I did say, and the way I said it, fell short of the requirement, which I accept, for discussions of contentious issues to be conducted in a fully civil and respectful way. I deeply apologize for any offence caused to those present and those to whom my remarks were reported.”
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the official representative body of Britain’s Jewish community, called for Willsman to be kicked out of the party and questioned the decision to not discipline him.
“Now Peter Willsman’s disgusting rant against Jewish community & rabbis has been made public by @JewishChron [the Jewish Chronicle], & what seems to be lying exposed about what he did & didn’t say, he should be summarily expelled,” she tweeted.
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. https://t.co/7ahCCWrv4x . But I have some more questions in this thread:
— Board of Deputies President (@BoDPres) July 31, 2018
“Was Jennie Formby there to hear what was said? If yes, why did she let Willsman off so lightly?” she asked. “Was Jeremy Corbyn there to hear Willsman? If so, what form did his professed ‘militant opposition’ to antisemitism take when he heard it?”
“Why has it been so easy to clear Willsman after his slurs against the Jewish community, but anti-racist MPs @MargaretHodge [Margaret Hodge] & @IanAustinMP [Ian Austin] are still being put through the ringer?” she queried referring to two Labor MPs who are facing disciplinary action over their criticism of Corbyn’s attitude towards allegations of party anti-Semitism.
JTA contributed to this report.