@ewansomerville | Updated February 20, 2019 19.10
Sheffield Labour Students members have expressed interest in a talk by an ‘antisemitic’ MP yet at the same time called a breakaway MP “abhorrent” for referring to BAME people as a “funny tinge”, Forge Press can reveal.
A current committee member in the group of Sheffield University Labour activists was found on the ‘going’ list for a discussion with Chris Williamson, who has called antisemitism claims within the Labour Party “proxy wars and bullshit”.
This is despite SLS telling Forge Press that they “haven’t…[and] nor do we wish to” had any involvement with Mr Williamson since the scandal last term.
But mysteriously the individual, who will not be named, disappeared from the ‘going’ list on the ‘Labour for the many: Defeating the rightwing [sic] split for the few’ Facebook event immediately after we contacted SLS on the issue.
It comes as eight MPs have quit the Labour Party blaming an institutional culture of antisemitism, launching the breakaway ‘Independent Group’. Joan Ryan, the eighth MP to leave Labour in two days, said the party has “become infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.
Today (Wednesday), Tory MPs Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston also broke ranks to join the new movement that demands a “different culture” to change Britain’s “broken politics”.
‘His return is a disgrace’
But hours after launching on Monday, MP Angela Smith, one of the members, was forced to apologise after referring to “Black people and those of a…funny tinge”.
SLS committee, hours after they allowed a post promoting Chris Williamson’s talk on their private ‘Discussion Group’ of 659 members, joined the chorus of criticism by calling her comments “abhorrent”.
The former Education Officer for Sheffield Students’ Union and two former SLS committee members remain on the ‘interested’ list for Saturday’s talk, organised by Sheffield Momentum – despite the current Sheffield SU Council publicly condemning Mr Williamson in December.
“I have personally received dozens of messages on Twitter of abuse and it’s all because of the actions of these people”
Gabe Milne, a Jewish student at the University, said: “I think it’s a disgrace that [Chris Williamson is] coming back [to Sheffield] and I think I’ve made my opinions clear.
“I have absolutely no time for him at all and I would call on the venue – a church – to cancel the event. I think it’s really sad that another faith group would treat the Jewish community like this.
“I have personally received dozens of messages on Twitter of abuse, JSoc has received abuse and its all because of the actions of these people.”
Speaking to Forge Press, SLS said: “We cannot account for the actions of individual members…[and any] insinuation that we have learned nothing from the events of last term is baseless and hurtful”.
‘Positive developments’ after the ‘betrayal’
The Sheffield SU-affiliated committee faced widespread backlash in October after inviting the shamed MP for Derby North to campus despite two committee resignations and Sheffield Jewish Society damning the invite as “betrayal of Jewish students in Sheffield”.
The event was “indefinitely postponed” after the Labour Party became embroiled in a Met Police probe into hate crimes.
MORE: Forge Press reports the Chris Williamson/SLS scandal
Although Mr Williamson was not involved in the investigation, as recently as Sunday he retweeted a Twitter user who has allegedly propagated Holocaust revisionism and he has previously called antisemitism claims in his party “a dirty, lowdown trick”.
The Union of Jewish Students said the initial invitation sent “a strong message that antisemitism, and those that deny it, will be tolerated in a movement which claims to be anti-racist.”
But Milne, also the co-chair of JSoc, said there have been “positive developments” between the two societies since and, although in early stages “the light at the end of the tunnel is visible.”
‘Funny tinge’ gate
Luciana Berger, one of the members of ‘The Independent Group’ breakaway, said she was “embarrassed and ashamed” to stay in what she claims has become an institutionally antisemitic party.
Milne, who also threw away his Labour membership card in protest at the events of last term, said the case of Luciana Berger, who many claim was bullied out of the Labour Party for her Jewish faith, is “a disgrace and if anything else the most symbolic failure to address the problem is represented by that.”
Issuing a first apology 5hrs and 29 minutes into a political grouping's existence must be some some sort of record. https://t.co/jdupPo7qQV
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) February 18, 2019
In a launch statement, the group said: “It is not simply that our values are no longer welcome in the Labour Party; the values we hold mean that, in all conscience, we can have no confidence in the Party’s collective leadership, competence or culture.”
But following an earlier BBC interview in which MP Angela Smith was forced to apologise after referring to the BAME community as a “funny tinge”, SLS publicly hit out at the breakaway faction.
“As a society that supports the Labour Party leadership and its values, we are not sorry to see Angela Smith and the other six MP’s leave and put their own interests first before the solidarity our party is built on,” SLS said.
‘The invite sent a strong message that antisemitism, and those that deny it, will be tolerated in a movement which claims to be anti-racist’ – UJS
“Her non-apology was not good enough, despite saying she misspoke, the idea of anybody being ‘funnily tinged’ is abhorrent and we do not support it. Smith’s comments have no place in our party and clearly neither does she.”
Ahead of the event on Saturday, Mr Milne added: “Although we’ve had some tough times over the last six months, the message I would send to jewish students thinking of coming to Sheffield is come – Sheffield is a safe city and our SU has stood by us repeatedly.”
Following Forge Press’ investigation of the event, a spokesperson for SLS said: “As a committee we have an open dialogue with JSoc and are currently planning a large crossover event to take place in the coming months and as a society have not had anything to do with Chris Williamson since the unfortunate events last term, nor do we wish to.
“We are trying to move forward from the incident last semester, despite the resignations that followed, and are working as a seriously under-resourced committee.”