In defence of Chris Williamson

JVL Introduction

The Executive Committee of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland (LPNI) has issued the statement below on Chris Williamson.

They consider that Chris Williamson’s comments in no way attacked or could reasonably be construed as an attack on the Jewish community, but were rather voiced in opposition to allegations of racism and bigotry in Labour.

They present a a detailed examination of this important question, and robustly challenge “the false narrative that the Labour Party is a racist and bigoted party”.


Source: PDF document sent to JVL web.
Posted 2 July at 17.11.Updated 17.49 to include endnotes and to correct formatting

[LPNI is the UK Labour Party’s regional constituency organisation that operates in Northern Ireland. The Labour Party is not a registered political party in Northern Ireland and does not currently contest elections.]


Labour Party Northern Ireland Executive Committee endorses the call for Chris Williamson MP’s suspension to be lifted and for the whip to be restored to him.

Chris Williamson was originally suspended by the Labour Party in February 2019 after allegations of anti-semitism. The suspension followed comments he made at a meeting of Momentum members. The media widely misreported that Chris Williamson had said that the “Labour Party had been too apologetic about anti-semitism”. If anyone had said that, then they would have no place in the Labour Party. However, it is clear that Chris Williamson stated that the party had been too apologetic to those who had demonised the party as being “a racist bigoted party”

“The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I have got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we’ve backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic… We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any other party.”

On 26 June 2019 Chris Williamson’s suspension was lifted. A three-person anti-semitism panel drawn from the party’s National Executive Committee issued a formal warning, following advice from independent barristers. The correct rules and procedures were followed and the matter should have been closed. However, Chris Williamson’s reinstatement was met by a barrage of complaints from within the Parliamentary Labour Party and amongst some Jewish organisations. The complaints were widely circulated and amplified by the UK media. A letter calling for the reinstatement to be overturned was circulated amongst members of the PLP. The Jewish Chronicle newspaper claimed that anyone who didn’t sign the letter “can no longer claim to support the Jewish Community in Britain”. [1] They actually named a number of individual MPs who had not signed the letter. The headline of the article was “Labour MPs who did not sign letter to remove Williamson whip have nowhere to hide”. On foot of the letter and the ensuing publicity and contrary to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party, Chris Williamson was again suspended.

LPNI’s Executive Committee is concerned about the original suspension. We consider that Chris Williamson’s comments in no way attacked or could be reasonably construed to be an attack on the Jewish community. We instead consider them to clearly oppose a narrative that alleges the Labour Party to be a racist and bigoted party. In order to determine whether or not Chris Williamson’s comments were reasonable and that he was therefore entitled to make them, we must first of all examine whether or not the underlying premise that he opposed (that the Labour Party is a racist and bigoted party) is correct. Given the serious nature of the premise, we consider that a detailed examination is appropriate.

 

In recent years the Labour Party has come under increasing scrutiny in relation to allegations that it has a particular problem with anti-semitism. Many in the mainstream media have presented these allegations as if they are an incontrovertible statement of fact. The reporting of these allegations has caused anxiety amongst Jewish people living in the UK. This is hardly surprising. Jewish people are continuously being told that the largest political party in the UK is institutionally anti-semitic. They become worried. The worries of Jewish people are then reported as if they are further damning evidence that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-semitic.

These allegations of “rampant anti-semitism in the Labour Party” have led to detailed research and a number of investigations being conducted to ascertain the truthfulness of the claims. Some of the research has been conducted by world renowned Jewish organisations, with no affiliation, support for, or loyalty to the UK Labour Party. Despite their clear objective and independent credentials; their findings have been almost universally ignored by the UK media. A sample of these include:-

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s investigation into anti-semitism. It concluded “Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”.[2]

The World Jewish Congress investigated instances of anti-semitism on social media platforms across the globe. They encountered 382,000 social media posts that they considered to be anti-semitic. Their findings in relation to the UK were “According to an analysis of user profiles, 90% of posts were made by young white males under the age of 40 with affiliations to extreme right-wing groups”.[3]

A Jewish Policy Research Report entitled “Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain – A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel”, highlighted an important fact. In May 2015 (therefore, prior to Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader of the UK Labour Party), 85% of British Jews did not support the Labour Party. The overwhelming majority supported the Tories (64%). Therefore, it is not true to say that prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, it was “the natural home” for Jewish people.
The authors of the report were quite clear about the particular scrutiny that they were going to adopt towards the Labour Party; stating “Given recent concerns about antisemitism in the Labour Party, there is a strong case for looking closely at the far-left”. However, despite the close scrutiny, the report analysed the data and found “The political left, captured by voting intention or actual voting for Labour, appears in these surveys as a more Jewish-friendly, or neutral, segment of the population”.[4]

Jewish Voice for Labour published a report analysing UK media’s reporting of allegations of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. The authors analysed surveys relating to anti-semitic attitudes across the political spectrum and found that anti Jewish attitudes were “low across the political spectrum, but high on the far right, and there is no evidence of a far-left concentration”. They concluded “A smear campaign of McCarthyite proportions has been taken up unquestioningly by the mainstream media” They also stated “The relevant data we present below has been almost completely ignored in media reporting and commentary and the findings rarely if ever referred to, or reflected upon”.[5]

The Media Reform Coalition also analysed media reports of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. They included a detailed analysis of the press reporting of the Labour Party’s initial refusal to adopt the full definitions included in the IHRA. Their analysis showed that those supporting the party’s position were almost universally ignored; including support from Jewish organisations that were not affiliated or supportive of the Labour Party; “In mid-July, an unprecedented joint statement signed by more than 40 Jewish organisations around the world (including 7 in the UK) was published critiquing the IHRA definition. This received only two mentions within the sample – one in an opinion piece carried by the Independent and the other as a brief citation in the last sentence of a Guardian report”.[6] Their analysis showed that those interviewed and featured across the media, who were opposed to Labour’s plans to exclude some of the definitions, outnumbered those who were supportive, by over 8:1. It also detailed that many of the statements made by the media in relation to the adoption of the IHRA definitions by other countries and UK bodies, were false or misleading.

The Labour Party has itself analysed whether or not there is indeed a particular problem with anti-semitism in its ranks. It should be uncontroversial to say that there is a particularly close scrutiny of Labour Party Members and therefore the general public are likely to be vigilant and pro-active regarding perceived Labour Party members expressing anti-Jewish sentiment. The figures show that in the period between April 2018 and February 2019, the Labour Party received 1106 allegations of anti-semitic conduct.

Almost 20% of all complaints were lodged by just one person; Labour MP Margaret Hodge.[8] 40% of the overall number of complaints turned out to not even be in relation to members of the Labour Party. 20% turned out to not even cross the very low threshold required to warrant any form of investigation being initiated. Of the 40% of complaints that actually related to Labour Party Members, 1/3 of these were completely exonerated. That means that the actual figure, during this intense period of scrutiny, indicates that approximately 1 in 2000 members engaged in some form of conduct considered to be anti-semitic.

All anti-semitism should be considered a scourge and a problem that needs addressing. However, it is a fair comment to say that the Labour Party does not have any form of particular problem with anti-semitism. It is also fair to say that Labour Party Members are not to blame for the narrative that suggests that there is a particular problem with anti-semitism in the party. It logically follows that members of the Labour Party should not feel that they should be apologetic about something that has been shown to be false.

It does not diminish the scourge of anti-semitism to state these things. Members are entitled to feel proud of the Labour Party’s history of anti-racism and support for minority communities and for all of those facing discrimination and oppression. They are entitled to encourage others to join the party and to support it on the basis of its anti-racist and wholly inclusive credentials.

Any member is entitled to say that those who are agreeing and apologising for the Labour Party having a particular problem with anti-semitism, is a concession to falsehoods and distortions. In a climate where such falsehoods and distortions proliferate, members are entitled to challenge the narrative. They are entitled to scrutinise complaints. They are entitled to adopt an inquisitorial approach to allegations. Every member who is accused is entitled to the absolutely fundamental principle of justice; that they are considered innocent until it is established otherwise.

Most of all, every member is entitled to be subject to the democratically determined rules and procedures governing the Party and to demand that those rules and procedures be upheld and not be subject to the arbitrariness of public opinion and pressure.

In light of the foregoing, LPNI Executive Committee moves the following motion:-

  1. We are opposed to the original suspension of Chris Williamson MP. Given that the opinion expressed was a reasonable one, we consider that there was insufficient evidence from the outset that his comments constituted conduct that justified withdrawal of the whip.
  2. We are opposed to the second suspension of Chris Williamson on the grounds that it was arbitrary and unreasonable, being as it failed to adhere to Labour Party rules and procedures governing disciplinary matters.
  3. We are opposed to the disciplining of any member who publicly states that the Labour Party does not have a particular problem with anti-semitism.
  4. We call on the Labour Party leadership and on all members to robustly challenge the false narrative that the Labour Party is a racist and bigoted party.

Endnotes

1 Harpin, L: “Labour MPs who did not sign letter to remove Williamson whip have nowhere to hide” – Jewish Chronicle 28 June 2019

2 House of Commons: Home Affairs Committee: Antisemitism in the UK: Tenth Report of Session 2016–17 (Pg 46, Para 120)

3 World Jewish Congress: “The Rise of Anti-semitism on Social Media” (Pg 171)

4 Staetsky, L D: Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel

5 Coulter J, Maddison, Dr A and Llewellyn, T: “Journalists, check your evidence on antisemitism

6 Schlosberg, Dr J, Laker, L: Labour, Antisemitism and the News – A disinformation paradigm

7 See 6 above

8 Hodge, M: Tweet dated 11 February 2019

Comments (8)

  • Sheena says:

    Disgusted that this disgraceful purge of Jeremy Corbyn supporters and brave critics of the cruel Israeli regime has been allowed to happen by the appalling traitorous Blairite Labour MPs who have never stopped plotting and scheming to force a coup. The media is a lying mass too. British democracy has died and the mps burnt down the house.

  • geoff rouse says:

    We must democratically deselect the turncoats and traitors in our socialist movement. All people of all religions, races and beliefs are welcome. A brother is a brother. A sister is a sister. A comrade is a comrade and there the definitions end. Protect our internationalist party.

  • S H says:

    This pathetic persecution for telling the truth is bloody stupid. Solidarity with our comrade Chris.

  • Chris O’Connor says:

    I have always believed that the JVL,have given the most honest opinion regarding the Smears on the Labour Party.

  • Kwame says:

    Chris is totally innocent and well done to our party in Northern Ireland standing up for him

  • Alan Miller says:

    The article you produced is factual
    Chris Williams
    Must be supported additionally the
    Jewish voice for Labour must be
    delivered
    Additionally Professor Finkelstein and
    Noam Chomsky should be brought
    to add weight to this outrage

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    I fully support the NEC’s lifting of Chris Williamson’s suspension and shall soon be proposing a motion at my CLP expressing opposition to the re-imposition of that suspension. But I’d like to know what the “formal warning” referred to above related to.

  • Ernesider says:

    Am I right in thinking that the committees that suspended reinstated and resuspended Chris Williamson were controlled by Jeremy Corbyn supporters and not by “appalling traitorous Blairite Labour MPs”……??

Comments are now closed.