Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Calls for Corbyn ally on Labour's ruling body to be suspended after claiming antisemitism row was invented by Jewish 'Trump fanatics'

Peter Willsman recorded saying he will 'not be lectured to' by 'some of these people in the Jewish community' and demanding rabbis provide evidence of left-wing antisemitism

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 30 July 2018 18:44 BST
Jeremy Corbyn ally, Peter Willsman, blamed 'Jewish Trump fanatics' for inventing Labour antisemitism

Labour is facing calls to suspend a member of its ruling executive after he was recorded telling a key meeting that reports of antisemitism in the party were being "made up" by Jewish "Trump fanatics".

Peter Willsman, a long-standing supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, appeared to say he would not "be lectured to" by "people in the Jewish community" who he claimed support Donald Trump.

He also said Labour should demand that nearly 70 rabbis who wrote an open letter raising concerns over left-wing antisemitism provide evidence for their claims.

The comments are believed to have been made at a meeting of Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) earlier this month, at which the ruling body controversially voted to amend an internationally-recognised definition of antisemtism for use in the party's new code of conduct.

The Jewish Labour Movement made a formal complaint about the comments and a Jewish Labour MP called for Mr Willsman to be suspended, but he is believed to have escaped a formal disciplinary inquiry after apologising for the remarks.

Speaking during the meeting, Mr Willsman is reported to have described the 68 rabbis' claims about "severe and widespread" anti-Jewish sentiment in Labour as "simply false" and said he had never witnessed any antisemitism in the party

According to the Jewish Chronicle, which published an audio recording of the rant, he said: "Some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump. They're Trump fanatics and all the rest of it. I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up fast 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?"

The recording begins with him 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."

Labour MP Luciana Berger, the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), demanded that the party suspend Mr Willsman pending the outcome of a formal investigation.

She said: "Anyone listening to this recording will be appalled to hear the venom and fury directed by Mr Willsman at the British Jewish community.

"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."

She added: "Mr Willsman only has to take a look at his NEC papers or the many recent press reports to see evidence of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

"In the past week alone two Labour councillors have been suspended and the party have confirmed that 252 people are being investigated for the comments they’ve made online directed at Dame Margaret Hodge MP.

"Now an accurate record of this diatribe has been identified the party should urgently conduct a formal investigation of this conduct and suspend him today."

In response to their complaint, Jennie Formby, Labour's general secretary, told JLM she had written to Mr Willsman "reminding him about the high standard of conduct we expect from all members - particularly those serving on the party's governing body".

She added: "I have made clear any repetition of similar conduct is likely to result in formal disciplinary action."

Mr Willsman is currently seeking re-election to the NEC as part of a slate of nine left-wing candidates who are calling themselves the "JC 9" in reference to their support for Mr Corbyn.

Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

In his apology, he said: “At the NEC... I spoke in support of the decision to confirm the adoption of the code of conduct on antisemitism and to reopen development of the code in consultation with Jewish community organisations.

"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.

"I deeply apologise for any offence caused to those present and those to whom my remarks were reported."​

The row over anti-Jewish abuse in Labour has deepened in recent weeks after the party decided not to replicate the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in its new code of conduct.

It has not directly incorporated four of the IHRA's examples of antisemitism that relate to criticism of Israel, such as suggesting Jews are more loyal to the Jewish state than their home country, or comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.

The Labour leadership insists its code of conduct goes further than the IHRA definition and says the four examples that were not directly adopted have been incorporated elsewhere in the document.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in