Pressure is growing on a member of Labour’s governing body to stand aside after a recording emerged in which he suggested Jewish “Trump fanatics” were behind some reports of antisemitism in the party.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, became the most high-profile figure to condemn the remarks on Monday evening, claiming Peter Willsman “disgusts me” and branded him a “loud mouthed bully” as a second MP called for his suspension.
In the recording Mr Willsman – an ally of Jeremy Corbyn – also questioned the “evidence” of 68 rabbis who wrote an open letter to the party over antisemitism concerns.
Mr Willsman, who is up for re-election this summer for his position on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), has apologised for his remarks and the Labour party considers the matter to be resolved.
In a clip obtained 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 antisemitism in this party?”’
In an open letter earlier this month, 68 rabbis called on Labour to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, including its examples.
They said antisemitism within “sections of the Labour party” had become “so severe and widespread that we must speak out with one Jewish voice”.
The recording begins with Mr Willsman appearing to question the authenticity of antisemitic comments posted online, saying: “They can falsify social media very easily.”
Later on, he can be heard angrily asking members of the NEC to raise their hands if they have ever witnessed antisemitism in the Labour Party. When several appear to have done so, he says: “I’m amazed. I’ve certainly never seen any.”
His remarks led to the Jewish MP Luciana Berger calling for the suspension of Mr Willsman and for the party to conduct a “formal investigation”.
On her Twitter account she continued: “The face that it took place in a meeting of UK Labour’s sovereign body the week after all that’s happened is a disgrace.”
Mr Watson added: “For the avoidance of doubt: Peter Willsman is and always has been a loud mouthed bully. He disgusts me.“
Left-wing activist and columnist Owen Jones posted on his Twitter account after the recording emerged that there is “no way” he would now vote for Mr Willsman in the upcoming NEC elections.
“I’ll proudly vote for the other eight excellent Labour left candidates. I won’t vote for someone who undermines the struggle against the disgusting disease of antisemitism,” he added.
Mr Willsman told the BBC: “I deeply apologise for any offence caused to those present and those to whom my remarks were reported.
“Not all of what I said has been accurately 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.”
Referring to Mr Willsman’s case, a Labour party spokesperson added: We don’t comment on individual cases.”
The recording also emerged as a senior party source rejected a report in The Times that shadow chancellor John McDonnell had criticised Mr Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism within the party.
The Independent has contacted Mr Willsman.
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