A close ally of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said allegations about anti-Semitism in the party had been concocted by "Jewish Trump fanatics," the Jewish Chronicle reported Monday.
Peter Willsman made the comments during a July 17 meeting of the party's ruling body in which it approved Labour's controversial new anti-Semitism definition. These accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, but not all of the accompanying guidelines relating to Israel.
Willsman – who is secretary of the Campaign For Labour Democracy, a group that backed former London Mayor Ken Livingstone when he claimed Zionists collaborated with Hitler in the 1930s – can clearly be heard saying in an audio file published online: "They can falsify social media very easily. And some of these people in the Jewish community support [President Donald] Trump. They're Trump fanatics, and all the rest of it. So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all.
"I think we should ask the 70 rabbis, 'Where is your evidence of severe and widespread anti-Semitism in this party?’" he added.
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Willsman was referring to the 68 British rabbis from all streams of Judaism who earlier this month called on the party to accept the full definition of anti-Semitism as drawn up by the IHRA.
Their letter stated, in part: "The Labour Party’s leadership has chosen to ignore those who understand anti-Semitism the best, the Jewish community. By claiming to know what’s good for our community, the Labour Party’s leadership have chosen to act in the most insulting and arrogant way."
In the audio, an increasingly agitated Willsman is next heard addressing the audience: "Let me ask you a question. How many people in this room have seen anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? Hold your hands up."
When two hands are raised, Willsman responds, "You’ve had anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? I’m amazed. I’ve certainly never seen it.” A Scottish accent is then heard asking Willsman to sit down.
The JC reported that two people present at the meeting made formal complaints about the comments, but that Willsman was told last week he will not be the subject of any investigation after he wrote an apology over his remarks.
The Times also reported Tuesday that Corbyn's right-hand man, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, has met with the leader and criticized his approach to solving the anti-Semitism crisis that has engulfed Labour over the past year.
McDonnell is said to have told Corbyn to drop the disciplinary proceedings against MP Dame Margaret Hodge, MP, after she confronted the leader in the Houses of Parliament over the anti-Semitism definition and allegedly called him a "f***ing racist and anti-Semite."
After accusing Corbyn of being an anti-Semite, Hodge herself was subjected to anti-Semitic attacks on social media. The Daily Express reported Monday that the Labour Party is currently investigating over 250 instances of anti-Semitic comments posted to the East London MP, including some from members of the party. Hodge lost members of her family in the Holocaust.
A member of a Labour Party-supporting Facebook group reportedly called for Hodge to be “deported to her homeland Israel,” while another called her “a Zionist remedial cancer” and accused her of taking money from Israel.
Another Labour MP is also being investigated for his criticism of the party's adoption of the anti-Semitism definition. Ian Austin, whose adoptive father is Jewish and escaped from then-Czechoslovakia as a child in 1939.
Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Austin wrote: "I am shocked and ashamed that a party that has had such a proud tradition of fighting racism has caused huge offence [sic] and distress to the Jewish community.
"Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, some – a minority – go way beyond legitimate and passionately held views about the plight of the Palestinians and tip over into anti-Semitism."
He added: "The way the leadership weakened the IHRA examples will make it much harder to deal with anti-Semitism. First, for example, Labour members can now describe the establishment of Israel – not just the actions of the government, the decisions of its parliament or the behaviour of its military, but Israel’s very existence – as a racist endeavour [sic]. Second, a member could call Zionists 'Nazis' and simply be warned instead of facing proper sanctions. Third, the party must find evidence of racist intent, which will be very difficult to establish."
Austin is facing possible suspension from the party after clashing with Labour Party Chairman Ian Lavery. Austin denies screaming abuse at Lavery, saying instead it was a heated discussion about the party's handling of anti-Semitism.
Last week, in an extremely rare move, the three main British-Jewish newspapers teamed up to published a joint editorial in which they warned of "the existential threat to Jewish life" in Great Britain "that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government."