An MP and Jeremy Corbyn ally at the centre of the Sheffield Labour Students scandal has declared the party “too apologetic” over antisemitism.
Footage from the event at a Sheffield church on Saturday, which has since gone viral, sees Chris Williamson tell local Momentum activists that Labour was being “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.
Williamson faced a censure by party officials on Tuesday after he helped arrange the screening of a film defending Jackie Walker, an activist suspended from the party for two years after she made comments allegedly undermining antisemitism and the Holocaust.
It comes after Forge Press revealed last week that three current or former committee members for the Sheffield SU society of Labour students were spotted on an event list to attend the talk, which has sparked national uproar.
The current committee member, who will not be named, incidentally vanished from the ‘going’ list for the Facebook event immediately after we contacted SLS on the issue.
“Williamson seems to be very deliberately sticking two fingers up at the Jewish community and his colleagues”
This was despite SLS, which allowed the talk to be promoted on their public ‘Discussion Group’ of 659 members, telling Forge Press they no longer had “anything to do” with the MP following u-turning on inviting him to campus last term.
SLS have since told Forge Press that no members or committee officers physically attended the talk, organised by the Sheffield branch of the grassroots pro-Corbyn activism group Momentum.
Addressing Labour and Momentum activists, Williamson went on to say “we have backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.”
WATCH: Chris Williamson tells a Sheffield Momentum meeting that Labour has been "too apologetic" about anti-Semitism… pic.twitter.com/zxtKdHQPvw
— Liz Bates (@wizbates) February 26, 2019
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson called Williamson’s comments at the event “deliberately inflammatory”.
A Labour spokeswoman said it was “completely inappropriate” for him to have booked a room in Parliament to show the ‘Witch Hunt’ film, which casts scepticism on claims of an antisemitic culture within Labour.
The Labour chief whip, Nick Brown, will join Jennie Formby, the party’s general secretary, in reaching out to Williamson to express their discomfort and urge him to cancel the film screening.
Lilian Greenwood, who joined several other Labour MPs in lodging complaints about Williamson’s behaviour to top party figures, told The Guardian that the MP “seems to be very deliberately sticking two fingers up at the Jewish community and his colleagues”.
‘Evil, institutional antisemitism’
Nine MPs broke ranks from the party last week to form the new ‘Independent Group’, citing an “evil” institutional culture of antisemitism within the opposition party.
Luciana Berger, one of the breakaway MPs, tweeted the footage of Chris Williamson, released by the Yorkshire Post, saying: “This is what I have left behind. It’s toxic. Our country deserves so much better.”
Gabe Milne, a Jewish student at the University who also threw away his Labour membership card in anger at links between SLS and Williamson uncovered by Forge Press last term, said it was a “disgrace” that he was returning to the city.
The SLS-Chris Williamson scandal
SLS sparked uproar for inviting the Derby North MP to speak at Sheffield University in November. Two committee members resigned in protest after SLS ploughed on with the panel discussion despite the uproar.
After Forge Press questioned the University for deeming Williamson ‘safe’ to come to campus and not representing a threat to staff or students, management defended the decision of University Security on the grounds of free speech.
Sheffield Jewish Society, a campus activism group, told SLS it had “betrayed Jewish students”, prompting Williamson to publicly abuse JSoc in a column where he called the students “haters” and “opponents of socialism”.
In leaked minutes of a committee meeting at the time, SLS branded Williamson as “part of our movement,” going on to say that it is “unfair to rescind an invitation based on no evidence”.
Chris Williamson and over 90 members come together in unity to resist the next wave. Actual meeting starts at 1'30" in.
Posted by Momentum Sheffield on Sunday, 24 February 2019
Williamson has previously called antisemitism claims within Labour “a dirty, lowdown trick” and has tweeted in defence of an alleged ‘Holocaust revisionist’ and a former Labour Party member who claimed Marks and Spencer had “Jewish blood” and “Jewish ancestors”.
The event was “indefinitely postponed”, not cancelled, following a Met Police probe into hate crimes within the Labour Party – leaving the possibility open that Williamson could return to campus in the near future.
Fellow Labour MPs tweeted to distance themselves from Williamson’s comments on Saturday, with Stephen Doughty, MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, branding them “unacceptable” and having “no place in our party”.