This is a guest post by James Mendelsohn.
In recent years, some on the left have suggested that accusations of antisemitism are raised dishonestly. Ken Livingstone has done so repeatedly. Last year, Diane Abbott dismissed allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party as “smears”. Len McCluskey similarly castigated a supposedly “cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims”.
Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North and the Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, has now followed this trend. Speaking to The Guardian, Williamson said that controversies over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour were “proxy wars and bullshit”:
“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.
“It is pretty repellent to use that to attack somebody like Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog.
“But I feel people have stopped listening to the smears and lies and dirty tricks…”
Williamson does not engage with the abundant, specific evidence of antisemitism within Labour. He instead claims that those who raise concerns do so dishonestly, for political gain. His tone is strident: “proxy wars and bullshit… a really dirty, lowdown trick… smears and lies and dirty tricks”. Given the large fall in support for Labour among British Jews, his assertion that “many” within the Jewish community are “appalled” by the apparent “weaponisation of antisemitism” is questionable. He disregards the fact that both the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council have raised concerns, as have the Community Security Trust. Indeed, he implicitly accuses them of doing so dishonestly. Williamson generalises that Corbyn “has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog” but again ignores the specific evidence of Corbyn’s poor track record on antisemitism.
Responding to criticism of these comments, Williamson said:
“I absolutely did not and never would blame the victims of antisemitism or any form of racism and bigotry.
“Antisemitism is utterly repugnant and a scourge on society, which is why I stand in absolute solidarity with anyone who is subjected to antisemitic abuse. The point I was trying to make is that accusations have on occasions been used for factional or party political ends.”
Williamson’s response is unsatisfactory. He again fails to engage with the specific evidence of antisemitism within Labour. His own track record is concerning: responding to allegations of antisemitism within the Oxford University Labour Club, Williamson tweeted, “I hope they won’t find any such evidence” and switched to invoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When challenged to call out antisemitism on another occasion, Williamson told his challenger to “pipe down”. It seems that there is a pattern of Williamson stigmatising, dismissing and impugning the motives of those who raise concerns about antisemitism.
As yet, there has been little response to Williamson’s remarks from beyond the Jewish community. Williamson has not apologised or withdrawn his accusations. Neither Jeremy Corbyn nor (to my knowledge) any other senior Labour figure has commented.
This muted response is not unique to Labour; articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail refer back to Williamson’s interview with The Guardian but do not mention Williamson’s comments about antisemitism. Better things should be expected from a supposedly antiracist party whose leader professes his revulsion of antisemitism. Whether there will be a stronger response to Williamson’s remarks, remains to be seen.