Oxford University Labour Club Calls for Disciplinary Action Against MP Who ‘Dismissed Legitimacy’ of Antisemitism Row
The Labour Club at Oxford University (OULC) in England called on Monday for disciplinary action against a parliamentarian who appeared to blame accusations of antisemitism within the opposition party on “right-wing trolls.”
MP Chris Williamson — a strong supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — said in an April interview that he saw evidence of people “setting themselves up as pro-Labour, pro-Jeremy Corbyn individuals on social media,” and then making “antisemitic, horrible and abusive remarks.”
The OULC said Williamson’s comments “dismissed the legitimacy of the issue of antisemitism within our party,” and recommended the withdrawal of the Labour whip.
“It is imperative that the Labour Party and OULC send a clear message of solidarity with the Jewish community,” the club said.
Williamson drew further condemnation after speaking at a meeting of left-leaning Labour members a day after the OULC issued its criticism — this time from the Jewish Labour Movement, which claimed he was complicit “in the face of antisemitism.”
The controversy stemmed from comments made at the same gathering by a party activist — identified only as Jack by a Jewish Chronicle reporter in attendance — who described the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel as “Israeli … foot soldiers” who are “trying to take our democracy away from us.”
“What could be a greater threat to our democracy than a foreign government who is trying to veto the person we want for prime minister?” he said to applause.
Williamson address the audience minutes later, but failed to publicly confront Jack over his accusation, instead calling on Labour members to be “brave” while facing “sinister” actions taken against them, according to the Chronicle.
He also asserted that some in the party had “allowed their passion to run away” and spoke in “a light which could be perceived as antisemitic,” but added, “I don’t believe they are antisemites.”
In response to criticism, the lawmaker expressed astonishment that a “veteran anti-racist” like himself is being targeted “for alleged comments made by another person,” and pledged to “not be bullied by the JLM or anyone else for that matter.”
The latest developments have further inflamed what many leaders of the UK’s Jewish community — who held a rare rally on the issue in March 26 — have repeatedly described as an antisemitism crisis in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.
The veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner, who once referred to the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” faced increasing criticism since his election in 2015 for inappropriate behavior by some members of his party, among them a Labour parliamentarian who said Israelis should “relocate” to the United States and a former London mayor who claimed that Adolf Hitler had once been a Zionist.
During his tenure, multiple Labour council candidates and potential candidates were found to have made conspiratorial and hostile comments on Israel and Jews; student representatives were criticized for sharing antisemitic, racist, and homophobic tweets; a party member derisively called a Jewish journalist a “Zionist”; Jewish Labour councillors resigned after saying they’ve been subject to antisemitic abuse; and another councillor stepped down after calling Jews “parasites” and pedophiles.
Tensions between Labour and the Jewish community escalated in March, following revelations that Corbyn and several Labour members had been part of the Facebook group Palestine Live, which included posts denying the Holocaust and alleging Israeli involvement in the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks.
Late month, Labour decided to approve a version of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which was edited to remove examples relating to Israel — going against the advice of 68 leading UK rabbis. The country’s top three Jewish newspapers subsequently published an unprecedented joint editorial warning that “a Jeremy Corbyn-led government” would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country.”
The crisis has also extended to the OULC, which in 2016 voted to endorse Israel Apartheid Week, prompting its co-chairman Alex Chalmer to resign from his position.
“[A] large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” Chalmer, who is not Jewish, wrote in an online statement explaining his position.
He also accused some peers of “throwing around the term ‘Zio'” — a slur for Jews popular with neo-Nazis — “with casual abandon,” and shared accounts of “senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians.”
A subsequent internal Labour report on the matter — released by The Jewish Chronicle after being suppressed by Labour’s National Executive Committee — found that “there have been some incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour,” and recommended “disciplinary procedures.” However, it stopped short of implicating the OULC as a whole, claiming that there is “no evidence that the Club is itself institutionally anti-Semitic,” while also acknowledging a “cultural problem in which behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated.”
It noted that “some Jewish members do not feel comfortable attending the [OULC] meetings, let alone participating.”
A subsequent investigation by Labour into two members of the club was terminated and the students let off without facing any disciplinary action, in a move that was decried by leaders of the UK Jewish community.