Labour suspends official who blamed antisemitism allegations on Israeli embassy

MPs branded left-winger Pete Willsman’s comments ‘grotesque’ and said he should be ejected from the party

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 31 May 2019 11:21
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Labour Peter Willsman says Israeli Embassy is behind anti-semitism claims

A member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) has been suspended from the party after a recording emerged of him blaming antisemitism allegations on the Israeli embassy.

Pete Willsman’s comments in a private meeting sparked outrage among the party’s MPs, with one branding them “grotesque”.

The row blew up days after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched a virtually unprecedented formal investigation into allegations of anti-Jewish prejudice within the party.

On the tape, obtained by LBC radio, Mr Willsman can be heard saying that complaints over antisemitism were being “whipped up” to damage Jeremy Corbyn, and alleging that party staffers were working “indirectly” for the Israeli embassy.

He claimed that the embassy had organised a group of 68 rabbis to complain in an open letter last year about “severe” antisemitism within the party.

The Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who is herself Jewish, said: “This man shouldn’t be in the Labour Party, never mind a member of our ruling body. Appalling views like this are precisely why the EHRC are investigating the Labour Party for anti-Jewish hate.”

A Labour spokesman said that the party takes all allegations of antisemitism “extremely seriously” and that Mr Willsman had been suspended from the party pending investigation.

During his suspension, he will be barred from attending NEC meetings or performing any other functions as a member of the body, where he sits as a representative of constituency Labour parties.

Mr Willsman’s re-election to the NEC last September sparked controversy after the emergence of a recording in which he claimed that many Jewish people were “Trump fanatics”.

The left-leaning Momentum movement dumped him from its list of nine preferred candidates for the election, saying his remarks were “deeply insensitive and inappropriate”.

LBC said the recording was made in January when Mr Willsman met American-Israeli author Tuvia Tenenbom, who was in the UK to write a book about the British.

He can be heard saying that “the rich control the papers and control everything else” and that they are concerned that Labour will increase their taxes.

And he adds: “One of those things about antisemitism is they use that to whip people up. They use anything. It is all lies, it’s all total lies and they just whip it up.”

Mr Willsman said it was “almost certain” that the Israeli embassy was behind the antisemitism allegations that have been dogging Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“They caught somebody in the Labour Party who it turns out was an agent of the embassy,” he said.

“The people that are in the Labour Party doing it are people who are linked. One of them works indirectly with the embassy. So obviously, I wouldn’t be bothered to find out, but my guess would be they are the ones whipping it up all the time.”

Mr Willsman went on to object to the rabbis’ open letter referring to a “widespread and severe” problem of antisemitism in the party, insisting that there had been only 70 cases out of 600,000 members.

“That’s rubbish they are coming out with,” he said.

Anti-semitism protesters shout 'Corbyn Out' during demo at Labour HQ

The Labour MP Stella Creasy said: “Anyone who supported Willsman for the NEC after the first revelations needs to hang their head in shame. They indulged this hatred. He must now surely be gone from Labour and we have to have an independent complaints system now.”

Another MP, Neil Coyle, described Mr Willsman’s words as “grotesque”, while Wes Streeting said: “Is it any wonder that the Labour Party is under investigation by the EHRC?

“His views have been known and tolerated by those at the top of the party for too long.”

A Labour spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms. All complaints about antisemitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

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