The Canary is one of three independent outlets to see an exclusive copy of Chris Williamson’s evidence challenging his suspension from the Labour Party in February 2019. He wrote this to defend himself against major allegations of antisemitism that were widely reported by a frenzied establishment media.
Despite this evidence, the Labour Party suspended him. The Derby North MP then faced eight months of disciplinary action. He resigned from the Labour Party in November 2019 after the party told him he couldn’t stand as an MP in the upcoming general election.
What emerges from his evidence is a picture of someone who, far from being antisemitic, is a principled anti-racist campaigner. Williamson’s support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, left-wing Jewish Labour supporters, and Palestinian rights is unwavering. His evidence also argues that:
allegations are factually inaccurate or have been presented without context so as to misconstrue my words and/or intentions
He provides crucial context that significantly undermines the incendiary narrative levelled against him by some factions of the Labour Party and fanned by the establishment media. He also asks many important questions about the Labour Party’s disciplinary process.
Williamson also believes that his body of evidence demonstrates that the Labour Party “failed to implement its own Rules and Code of Conduct consistently”.
“We are not a racist party”
One of the key allegations against Williamson stemmed from a speech he gave to a Momentum meeting in Sheffield on 23 February 2019. It was widely reported that he accused the Labour Party of giving “too much ground” and being “too apologetic” in dealing with antisemitism cases. Former deputy leader Tom Watson said he’d been “deliberately inflammatory”.
In his evidence, he provides the full speech. At the meeting, Williamson actually said:
We are not a racist party, are we? We’re not an anti-Semitic party. We are the Party that stood up to racism throughout our entire history… And now we – Jeremy, me and others – are being accused of being bigots, of being anti-Semites. And it’s almost as [if] we’re living within the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. You know the Party that’s done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.
And I’ve got to say I think our Party’s response has been partly responsible for that, you know? Because in my opinion – I never have, I’ve got to say – we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic. What have we got to apologise for? For being an anti-racist party? And we’ve done more to actually address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any other political party – any other political party. And, yet, we are being traduced, and grassroots members are being traduced. And I’m not going to stand or tolerate that in any way shape or form and whenever I get the opportunity [inaudible] I will not allow these people to slag off decent, hard-working, socialist members of our Party. I’m just not going do it because it’s an absolute bloody travesty what they’re saying about Party members.
Snippets from this speech, taken entirely out of context, became ‘crucial’ evidence for his suspension and demonisation. And this was despite a full apology from Williamson once he recognised how upsetting some comments may be if read in isolation.
When asked what he meant by selected words in this speech, Williamson states in his evidence that:
The selective and highly misleading quote above is without context and appears to have been provided maliciously and vexatiously by a third party with the deliberate intention of my words being misconstrued.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s vision”
On 27 February 2019, Williamson was informed that complaints against him “allegedly ‘add up to a pattern of behaviour that may bring the [Labour] Party… into disrepute’”. But he says he wasn’t shown this evidence. So he wasn’t able to ‘fully defend’ the significant allegations against him.
In building his defence, he emphasises his full support for “Jeremy Corbyn’s vision”. He also says he:
was reported to be the candidate whose values most closely aligned with Jeremy’s nationally and my campaign locally was perceived as a ‘test case for Corbynism’
The Canary contacted Labour’s Press Office about this and other allegations emerging from Williamson’s evidence. No reply was received by the time of publication.
The day before the storm broke about his comments in Sheffield, Williamson came under attack for booking a room in parliament to screen a film called WitchHunt. The film is about former Momentum co-chair Jackie Walker who is Black and Jewish. She was suspended in 2016.
According to the BBC, a Labour spokesperson said:
It’s completely inappropriate to book a room for an event about an individual who is suspended from the party and subject to ongoing disciplinary procedures. This falls below the standards we expect of MPs.
Williamson was asked if he’d booked a room to screen the film and if so, to explain why. His response notes:
‘Witch Hunt’ is an account of the systematic abuse, threats of violence and centralised, industrial-scale online harassment faced by Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The film, Williamson explains, highlights an ongoing “campaign” that “primarily targets Jewish Labour Party members” and those seen as “closely aligned” with Corbyn. He also notes it “highlights the personal struggle and pain” this caused many people.
Jewish Labour Party members and organisations involved in making the film, (including but not limited to Jewish Voice for Labour [JVL]), have been systematically harassed by those leading the organised campaign of pressure on the Party, its complaints team and its Leader.
Walker is a prominent supporter of Palestinian rights. She’s faced continued allegations of antisemitism in recent years. But the main body of her work, as an academic and writer, challenges racism in all its forms. As JVL previously told The Canary, there’s an assumption that Jewish people must “be uniformly supportive of Israel and of Zionism” (the political ideology which drove the creation of the state of Israel). This, it asserted, creates a situation where:
Those that take a different view are ‘not real Jews’, or they are ‘bad Jews’, or ‘self-hating’.
WitchHunt foregrounds this situation as it played out against Walker and other Jewish Labour members. So Williamson “believed it to be essential” to screen the film.
Williamson’s evidence shows why he believes this screening needed to take place “in a secure environment” for “internationalist socialist Jewish members” because:
outside Parliament they are routinely harassed by far-right street thugs and others, resulting in a bomb threat at Conference 2018
He also documents attacks from “known far-right activists” against left-wing Jewish members.
On 26 March 2018, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) held a rally to protest Corbyn’s leadership. Under the banner “enough is enough” the BoD insisted that Corbyn “personifies” the “problems and dangers” of a type of politics that’s antisemitic. Allegedly, this is because he’s “so ideologically fixed within a far left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities”.
right-wing and far-right protesters associated with the Board of Deputies rally crossed over to a counter-protest where they harassed elderly Jewish women supporters of Jeremy, calling out “kapo” and claiming these Jewish women would be “first into the ovens” under a Labour government. One young Jewish man was reduced to tears after being told to “go back to the ghetto”. At this rally, Labour MPs unwittingly stood among far-right extremists who wore symbols associated with anti-Palestinian terrorism
“A national security issue”
For Williamson, it’s vital for Labour to “address” the issues of far-right attacks on some members. As he says, this is “in order to protect left-wing Jewish members and fight anti-Semitism”. Williamson’s evidence shows that he very much links attacks on left-wing Jewish members to the number of “malicious and vexatious complaints” made against them. He says:
It is patronising and insulting to assume that pro-Israel groups speak for Jewish members or British Jews in general. Left-wing Jewish members tell me they regard this monopoly on opinion as anti-Semitic because it inaccurately and unfairly equates Jewish identity with support for a political ideology they regard as racist.
Williamson’s evidence builds a clear picture of a divide between left and right-wing factions in confronting genuine antisemitism. It also challenges media inaccuracies surrounding allegations made about him.
For example, evidence against him states that he sang Celebration “outside” Joan Ryan’s office following the former Labour MP’s resignation. Indeed, this is how it was first reported by a journalist:
He also recounts how he sang ‘Celebration’ outside Joan Ryan’s office when she quit Labour last week… pic.twitter.com/pXcbmjfgUD
— Liz Bates (@wizbates) February 26, 2019
But as he states, this didn’t happen. He sang inside his own office. As Williamson states in the video and in his evidence, his office was “opposite” Ryan’s:
I stated that I had sung ‘Celebration’ inside my office which was opposite Ms Ryan’s office. She would not have heard me. I did not sing ‘outside the office’ of Ms Ryan.
This is how the Daily Mail described the incident:
When Joan Ryan became the eighth Labour MP to quit the party last week, Williamson spared no time in marching over to her office. Standing outside her door, he belted out Celebration by Kool and the Gang.
Williamson also builds a compelling argument for why. Crucially, he asks why Ryan faced no disciplinary charges. The Al Jazeera film The Lobby “exposed” Ryan for “conspiring with a foreign official” and supporting the apartheid Israeli state. Ryan reportedly called the claims “rubbish”.
Although Corbyn and Emily Thornberry called for further investigation into Ryan’s actions, Labour didn’t act. This, Williamson argues, “highlights the inconsistent and haphazard” approach to “disciplinary action”.
In 2018, Islington town council banned musician Gilad Atzmon, who had a history of making truly disturbing antisemitic comments, from playing with Ian Dury’s former band The Blockheads. Because, it seems, of his longstanding relationship with the band, a petition gathered support to let him play.
Williamson was falsely accused of signing the petition. But he didn’t ever sign it and submitted evidence proving this. However, he did tweet a link to it. Once aware of the situation, he retracted that tweet “within twelve minutes” of posting. He also offered a full apology:
Further to my statement above, I realise it's helpful to issue this further clarification. pic.twitter.com/V6oXi4NQ6e
— Chris Williamson #GTTO (@DerbyChrisW) December 21, 2018
Again, this was how the Daily Mail portrayed what happened:
Two of the complaints against Williamson concern his support for Marc Wadsworth who was expelled from the Labour Party in April 2018. Wadsworth is a Black lifelong anti-racism campaigner. He has “a long track record of educating others and fighting fascism on the frontline”. Williamson explains:
He was an adviser to the family of Stephen Lawrence in the aftermath of Stephen’s murder by racist thugs and was responsible for introducing the family to Nelson Mandela.
Asked if he spoke at a Justice4Marc meeting in May 2018, Williamson said “yes”. This was to:
to support his reinstatement as a Labour Party member (offering solidarity) after he was, in my view the victim of a malicious, politically motivated and unfounded accusation of anti-Semitism.
He was also asked if he said during this meeting: “that’s why certain dark forces are using their power, using their contacts in the media in order to undermine this project”.
Again, his evidence shows this line was taken out of context.
Williamson provides full supporting evidence to explain what he meant by “dark forces”. He notes that:
Since late 2015, there has been an organised campaign of pressure targeting the Party, the Leader and the complaints system with the objective of ending Jeremy’s leadership. This has taken many forms and emanated from a variety of sources.
His evidence points to Thornberry’s call to investigate what she called “improper interference” fronted by Shai Masot an Israeli embassy official. In 2018, an investigation by Al Jazeera revealed “a network of pro-Israel organisations committed to ‘taking down’ UK politicians who attempted to defend Palestinian rights”. He also pointed to the well-documented work of the Integrity Initiative. Williamson says:
I was deeply dismayed to be one of the few Labour MPs raising questions in Parliament over the Integrity Initiative’s promotion of anti-Labour Party messages, which were paid for by the Foreign Office. Such a brazen, state-directed attack on our Party flies in the face of all democratic convention and seriously compromises the integrity of our press.
Evidencing what he meant by “dark forces” Williamson also points to inconsistencies in Labour’s disciplinary process. He notes, too, the role of the establishment media in attacking Corbyn and his supporters. He stresses he was referencing:
a range of ‘forces’ that seek to undermine the Party in co-ordination with tax-exiled newspaper owners who see the Labour Party’s promise to govern for the many, not the few as a threat to their interests.
Williamson was also accused of attending a demonstration outside Wadsworth’s hearing in April 2018. But actually, he attended the hearing “to give evidence in person”. MPs Clive Lewis and Keith Vaz, meanwhile, “submitted written evidence” to the hearing.
But supporting people facing disciplinary action for alleged antisemitism has become increasingly difficult. For many people, Williamson included, it actually adds to greater charges being levelled against them. In June 2019, a JVL spokesperson told The Canary that too many Jewish Labour members feel there’s a “witch hunt” in place. They explained:
It’s the defining feature of a witch hunt that anyone who suggests that a witch hunt is taking place is instantly denounced as themselves a witch.
Williamson also addresses this point in his evidence:
In the face of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation as described above, it is obviously difficult for Party members to defend those who have been unfairly targeted. Breaking those bonds of solidarity is a key objective of the campaign against our Party and its Leader
“Politically or personally close to Jeremy”
Williamson claims: “Party members and those deemed either politically or personally close to Jeremy are the primary targets” of what he and multiple left-wing Jews have called a coordinated “campaign”. Jewish comedian Alexei Sayle explained to Just Jews there’s “nothing more establishment than hatred of Jeremy Corbyn”. Jews Sans Frontieres said this, “in a nutshell, is why we’ve had… years of antisemitism smears”.
The Party has weakened its position in facing down this challenge: firstly by failing to recognise the sources of this campaign and secondly by failing to implement a consistent standard in its disciplinary approach towards Party members and MPs.
Throughout Corbyn’s time as leader, falsely linking left-wing criticism of Israeli state actions to antisemitism became a favourite tactic of right-wingers trying to silence critics of Israel’s far-right government.
No matter what Corbyn – a lifelong antiracist and advocate for peace – said, as leader, it wasn’t enough. Williamson’s evidence suggests that as a staunch defender of Corbyn some factions of the party were determined to push him further into the disciplinary undertow. Meanwhile, others who openly opposed Corbyn faced no charges for undermining their own leader.
“Weaponised allegations” of antisemitism
Williamson also points to wider issues of weaponising antisemitism. He acknowledges that he made certain comments speaking to Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio in September 2017.
But again, the allegations don’t reflect his full comments and lack context. In reference to this, he explains:
The political instrumentalisation of anti-Semitism by opponents of the Labour Party and its Leader have led to the mischaracterisation of far-right abuse as emanating from Labour Party members. This is not the case.
As he notes, many vicious and dangerous comments about Labour MP Luciana Berger came from known far-right and neo-Nazi sources, not Labour members. Williamson says he has “also repeatedly been the subject of weaponised allegations”. He explains he didn’t adopt this language first. It came, he says, from “people in the Jewish community”. He points to a 2016 statement from the Jewish Socialist Group which states:
Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm a supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally.
A year of procedure
Following his suspension in February, disciplinary actions against Williamson dragged on for months.
In June 2019, Labour removed the whip from Williamson. This followed a backlash after the party readmitted him following a formal warning. During that time, the corporate media’s ongoing allegations of antisemitism against Corbyn and many left-wing Labour members continued to spiral.
As The Canary reported, another suspension came in September, over separate claims of misconduct. Williamson pursued legal action against the Labour Party. In October, the High Court ruled that his second suspension was unlawful, stating that Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) members had been “influenced by the ferocity of the outcry” to banish him from the Labour Party. Yet the establishment media failed to report this accurately. Williamson said he felt it was “clear that my ‘re-suspension’ was motivated by media hysteria”.
A pattern emerges throughout Williamson’s evidence. It’s clear from reading his social media comments they don’t give concrete evidence of antisemitism. By the time he took the Labour Party to court in September 2019, a High Court judge criticised the Labour Party for pursing actions based on “press reaction” to Williamson.
His evidence actually shows Williamson’s lifelong commitment to fighting the true horrors of antisemitism and all forms of racism. And he also sets out the very real dangers for all Jewish people when antisemitism is weaponised:
The Party’s lack of a coherent understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism and its refusal to call out such political instrumentalisation of anti-Semitism by opponents of the Leader puts Jews at risk. Ms McDonagh’s and Dame Margaret Hodge’s comments were met with scorn by the public – the risk, therefore, is that genuine anti-Semitism is not taken seriously enough. This would endanger British Jews and cannot be allowed to happen
Indeed, in correspondence with journalist Matt Kennard, prominent Jewish academic Noam Chomsky pointed to this as part of a wider pattern, stating:
The way charges of anti-Semitism are being used in Britain to undermine the Corbyn-led Labour Party is not only a disgrace, but also – to put it simply – an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The charges against Chris Williamson are a case in point.
Between 2015 and 2019, some on the right of the party – backed up by the establishment media – came after pro-Corbyn MPs and supporters. Their pursuit of Williamson played out like a trophy hunt.
During that time, efforts to label the whole Corbyn-led movement as ‘antisemitic’ went into overdrive. Evidence from Labour showed that accusations of antisemitism involved around 0.1% of its 540,000-strong membership under Corbyn. While one antisemitic incident is one too many, this doesn’t support claims that Corbyn becoming PM constituted an “existential threat” to British Jews.
Both Corbyn and Williamson rightly called for antisemitism and all examples of abhorrent racism to undergo full investigation. But Williamson’s defence shows just how unjust the hunt against him always was. Both Corbyn and Williamson have shown a demonstrable commitment to fighting antisemitism (and all forms of racism) wherever it exists. Williamson’s evidence shows this. It also reveals significant issues in the Labour Party’s disciplinary process and an establishment media which pounced without searching for the truth. We can’t ever underestimate the human cost of that. There must be justice – for Williamson and for everyone affected by these failings.
Featured image via Mohamed Elmaazi
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