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Is Chris Williamson an antisemite? If Labour wants to survive morally, it should expel the controversial MP

Labour MP Chris Williamson addresses protest against Israel's response to demonstrations in Gaza. Credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Labour MP Chris Williamson addresses protest against Israel's response to demonstrations in Gaza. Credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

July 3, 2019   4 mins

Is Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North, an antisemite? The Labour Party ponders – they suspended, readmitted and then suspended him again last week.

I think it likely he is, and not just because the group of Corbyn apologists, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) – who worship Ken Loach, who defends the antisemitic play Perdition, which blames Jews for their own mass murder – say he isn’t.

Leftist antisemites are irritating because they glibly call themselves anti-racists. They cite Jews who hate Israel in any form in their defence – see Norman Finkelstein and his “Holocaust Industry”, which suggests that Jews can derive benefit from anything, even their own annihilation. Their utterances are often insidious, not explicit: ‘Jews Out!’ is a little gauche for these times.

Ash Sarkar, for instance, of Novara Media, says she knows that antisemitism exists – we thank you for your solidarity – but still supports a woman who writes ‘Free Palestine’ on the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was not racist, she said.

I sensed, in this support, a need that Jews prove themselves worthy of the Holocaust: to have learnt from it, as well as died from it. Did she believe, as Howard Jacobson wrote, “By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t.”?

At least it raised the question: where, exactly should Jews get out of? Warsaw, or Palestine? It’s an old question, and I know the answer: be less Jewish, and nothing is more Jewish than a Jewish homeland.

I doubt Williamson grew up dreaming of being a paradigm of Labour’s management of its antisemitism crisis, in which hatred of Israel bleeds into hatred of Jews who support it in any form. But he is. He has become an interesting case study. He was once a Blairite and he, of all people, lifted the medieval sanction against Jews living in Derby.

He should have learnt from that: antisemitism is not a fairytale, even if its killing fields were medieval Europe. It is real. Belief in the demonic character of the Christ-killing Jew – and if you can kill a god, you can fell a leader of the Labour Party – is soothing. It makes the inexplicable – the Holocaust – explicable and that is surely comforting.

After Williamson lost his seat in 2015 and regained it in 2017, he re-invented himself as a Corbyn fanatic dedicated to defending Labour from all charges of antisemitism, and ignoring, or rebutting, testimony on the rise of it. When a Jewish constituent told him that local people performed Nazi salutes, insisted that the Holocaust happened due to Jewish wealth, and told her child that she ought to be in a concentration camp, he repeatedly ignored her.

I shudder to remember that when I returned from Labour Party conference in 2017, I sat behind Williamson on the train, gibbering on the telephone to my mother about how bad things were for Jews in Labour, even if they were liberal Zionists. What would he have thought, over-hearing me?

As with Corbyn – who is not frail as the newspapers say, but rather not frail enough for me – the key is in the company he seeks. Like JVL, Williamson never seems to have met an antisemite he could not defend. That some of them are Jewish, or of Jewish descent, is irrelevant. We are surely beyond not seeing Jewish antisemites or female misogynists or gay homophobes. It seems that to him, the only acceptable Jews are Jews who hate Israel. That is the price for safety, for now. There may be another one later.

I don’t like the term “antisemite” because it was invented by the political theorist Wilhelm Marr, who was an antisemite. I prefer Jew hater. It’s more pithy. Williamson has never met a Jew hater he couldn’t defend.

Williamson believes that the accusations levelled at Labour are “bullshit” and “smears”. He defended Ken Livingstone and his insinuation that, since Hitler was a Zionist, Zionists are presumably Nazis. That is a lie, designed only to insult, and breathes life into the myth that, were the Jews less hateful, they would be less hated.

He defended Jackie Walker, who thinks Holocaust Memorial Day is too Judeo-centric. If only it weren’t so, we call back, but it is sand in the wind. He defended Pete Willsman, who thinks that British rabbis are in league with Donald Trump. He defended Marc Wadsworth who, at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report, complained about the lack of BAME attendees – does that segue into too many Jews? – and while there also accused a Jewish MP of being in league with the Daily Telegraph. (He later said he didn’t know she was Jewish. The ignorance!)

He defended Scott Nelson, who tweeted about “Jewish companies” with “Jewish blood” oppressing “global workers”. First Williamson said Nelson hadn’t said it; his accusers were merely opportunistic liars. He then exhorted Twitter to “please give him a chance”. Nelson was expelled from Labour.

He even defended Gilad Atzmon, the Israeli jazz musician who blamed the Grenfell Tower fire on “Jerusalemites” and thinks burning down a synagogue is a “rational act”. Williamson later apologised for Atzmon. He hadn’t done his research, he said.

Mere hours after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, in which 11 people were killed, he retweeted an article condemning the president of the Board of Deputies for using an antisemitic “trope” adding the line, “Well blow me down with a feather”. In this narrative, Jewish communal organisations are more dangerous to Jews than Jew haters. That’s a trope too. I refer you back to Perdition.

Williamson has sat at meetings listening to speakers talk about how a foreign nation – Israel – has subverted British democracy. He has not challenged it so we must assume, as he is a politician, that he believes it. And, so, I will pay Williamson the tribute of believing him. He is a defender of Jew haters. If Labour wants to survive morally, they must expel him.

Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.


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