British Labour lawmaker Chris Williamson came under fire Wednesday after footage emerged of him telling activists that the party had been too apologetic over accusations of anti-Semitism and was being “demonized.”
“The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonized as a racist, bigoted party,” Williamson said in the footage published by The Yorkshire Post.
“I have got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion…we have backed off too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic,” he said.
Williamson later issued a statement in which he said he was “sorry for how I chose to express myself on this issue,” and that he was “trying to stress how much the party has done to tackle anti-Semitism.”
“Our movement can never be ‘too apologetic’ about racism within our ranks,” the statement read. “Whilst it is true there have been very few instances of anti-Semitism within the Labour party — something I believe is often forgotten when discussing this issue — it is also true that those few are too many,” he added.
He also recounts how he sang ‘Celebration’ outside Joan Ryan’s office when she quit Labour last week… pic.twitter.com/pXcbmjfgUD
— Liz Bates (@wizbates) February 26, 2019
In a statement earlier in the day, the Labour party called on Williamson to apologize.
“These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate and fall below the standards we expect of MPs,” the party said. “Downplaying the problem of anti-Semitism makes it harder for us to tackle it. Chris Williamson should apologize immediately and withdraw his remarks.”
The party’s chief whip, Nick Brown, and general secretary, Jenny Formby, were discussing what action should be taken against Williamson, the Guardian reported.
Some members of the party were quick to condemn Williamson, with Labour MP Wes Streeting describing the video as “stomach-turning,” and predicting that “no action will be taken.”
Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood told the Guardian that “a rap over the knuckles and a request to be nicer” would not be sufficient action in Williamson’s case.
She added: “This is a pattern of deliberately provocative behavior. If the party are serious about tackling antisemitism and want to be seen to be serious then he should be subject to a disciplinary investigation.”
On Tuesday, it emerged that Williamson had booked a room in parliament for a screening of a film about Jackie Walker, who is suspended from the party over allegations of anti-Semitism, including saying “many Jews were chief financiers of the slave trade.” On Wednesday it was announced that the screening of the film, entitled “Witch Hunt,” was called off, with its promoters saying it would not be shown due to “intimidation.”
Williamson’s comments came as Labour lawmakers reportedly flagged social media posts from members accusing Jews of murdering children and questioning whether Jewish parliamentarians have “human blood.”
MP Tom Watson, the deputy chief of Labour, said he received 50 complaints of anti-Semitism last week from Labour colleagues, and called on leader Jeremy Corbyn to personally take them before the party’s top governing body.
According to a Sunday report in the Guardian, the complaints received by Watson included a number of anti-Semitic posts on Twitter by Labour members, such as one alleging “Jews murder people and children.”
Williamson, a close ally of Corbyn, himself no stranger to controversy relating to accusations of anti-Semitism, has long claimed that allegations of anti-Semitism in the party are part of a right-wing plot aimed at discrediting Corbyn and has called them “positively sinister.”
The former frontbencher, who has argued that such claims are a “dirty lowdown trick” being used for “political ends,” has called for the party to reinstate former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who was suspended amid anti-Semitism allegations and has since quit the party.
Last year, Williamson was slammed for expressing support for a conspiracist blogger who has claimed Zionists rule France, has shared platforms with Holocaust deniers, and staunchly supports Syrian President Bashar Assad’s bombing campaigns in civilian areas.
The fresh controversy followed countless recent revelations involving the embattled Labour party, under fire for what many see as a failure to address anti-Semitism within its ranks, its leader Corbyn’s support for the Hamas terror group and the party’s questioning Tuesday whether the UK’s proscription of Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a terror group was driven by political motives.
Labour has been rocked by charges of anti-Semitism in its ranks since the hard-left Corbyn became head of the opposition party in 2015, with Corbyn himself also facing such accusations — which he has denied.
Nine Labour MPs have quit the party in recent days, with many of them citing anti-Semitism within the party as the reason.