Momentum vice chair Jackie Walker apologises over 'appalling' Holocaust comments

She says: 'If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do'

Ashley Cowburn@ashcowburn
Wednesday 28 September 2016 17:37
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Jackie Walker reportedly made the comments at a Labour party anti-Semitism training event
Jackie Walker reportedly made the comments at a Labour party anti-Semitism training event

Momentum’s vice-chair has apologised over comments in which she appeared to criticise Holocaust Memorial Day for commemorating only Jewish victims.

Jackie Walker, vice-chair of the grassroots organisation set up shortly after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, made the comments at a Labour Party anti-Semitism training event.

“In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced Holocaust?” she told organisers.

During the meeting Ms Walker was recorded by the Huffington Post as saying: “I came in here ... and I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with ... [shouting from audience] and in terms of Holocaust day wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust ... [shouting from audience] in practice it’s not actually circulated and advertised as such.”

Senior members of Momentum are "fuming" at her remarks, The Independent understands.

Ms Walker’s comments reportedly led to one activist shouting “you’re telling lies” while others corrected her to say that not just Jews can commemorate the day.

Now, Ms Walker has said she is sorry for any offence called: "A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. A film of this session was leaked to the press unethically. I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France.

"In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of antisemitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider's definition and utterly condemn antisemitism.

"I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise."

The initial comments sparked widespread condemnation.

Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, has called on her to resign and said he was “appalled” at the comments.

“I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an anti-Semitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address anti-Semitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself,” he said.

“To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of National Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of anti-Semitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour party today.

“As vice-chair of Momentum Jackie Walker has consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.”

The Holocaust Education Trust accused Ms Walker of undermining and belittling “the distinct nature of the tragedy itself”.

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They added: “The Holocaust was a defining episode in history where 6 million men women and children were brutally murdered simply for being Jewish, the very epitome of man’s inhumanity to man.

“Whilst Holocaust Memorial Day rightly and proudly commemorates the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, one has to wonder why Ms Walker takes issue with commemorating the mass extermination of Jews in its own right.

“The deliberate use of term Holocausts – plural – undermines and belittle the distinct nature of the tragedy itself, ignores that genocides are the result of diverse and unique factors, and also deprives the Jewish community of their collective memory.”

It comes after Ms Walker, speaking to activists at Momentum’s festival in Liverpool, accused Mr Corbyn’s critics of attempting to “weaponise” anti-Semitism allegations in a bid to undermine the leader.

Despite various allegations during the summer, Mr Corbyn himself calling an inquiry into allegations and a string of suspensions including those of Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah, Ms Walker argued there was “little if any” evidence of racism.

“Let me make it clear: all racism is abhorrent and I am not saying that anti-Semitism does not exist in the Labour Party,” she said.

Senior Labour sources told the Independent it was “very likely” Ms Walker would be suspended from the party after Ian McNicol, the party general secretary, had looked into the claims. They added her suspension could go ahead without an investigation.

The Independent has sought comment from Momentum.

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