By Julie Wassmer
Last week, Canterbury MP, Rosie Duffield, made the following request on social media:-
Can anyone who thinks it’s okay to use the hashtag #IStandWithChrisWilliamson do me a massive favour and unfollow me please! His values are not those of @UKLabour and have no place in our beloved Party.
The request was made on the same day that Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was suspended by the Labour Party after a group of Labour MPs complained about remarks he had made at a meeting in East Yorkshire.
A strongly worded letter written by Clive Efford MP, chair of a group known as the Labour Tribune, called for Williamson’s suspension after he had offered an opinion that Labour had been “too apologetic” against allegations of anti-Semitism when the party had always been strongly anti-racist.
37 Labour MPs put their names to Efford’s letter – including my own Canterbury MP, Rosie Duffield. Amongst the allegations in the letter, which was circulated publicly via the Labour Tribune’s Twitter page, lay the following statement: “Chris Williamson has just been told to cancel his booking for a room in the House of Commons to show a film in support of someone who has been thrown out of the party for making antisemitic comments.”
This statement was untruthful.
In fact, Williamson had booked a room at the House of Commons for a screening of a film by Jon Pullman, WitchHunt, a documentary focusing on the accusations of antisemitism against Jacqueline (Jackie) Walker – a Black and Jewish anti-racist campaigner who has certainly not been “kicked out of the party”, because her hearing, against suspension from the party, is not scheduled until 26 March.
You can view the whole movie on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnMWCnHx8nQ
WitchHunt premiered at the Palace Cinema, Broadstairs on Sunday, 3 February with a London screening taking place a week later, followed by a Q and A session featuring Pullman, Alexei Sayle, Jackie Walker and Justin Schlosberg. It was chaired by Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a founding member of the group Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). JVL had been expecting to host the screening at the House of Commons on 4 March. Williamson’s only part in this was the hiring of the House of Commons room. He says that he didn’t plan to attend this screening – the cancellation of which, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) claims was due to “intimidation”.
The film’s website states that “Through a series of interviews, analysis and witness testimony, WitchHunt explores the connections between the attacks on Labour, the ongoing tragedy of Palestine and the wider struggle against race-based oppression. It argues that if it is to mean anything at all, the fight against racism must be a shared one that includes all peoples.”
The acclaimed film director, Mike Leigh, says of the film:-
“This impeccably-executed film exposes with chilling accuracy the terrifying threat that now confronts democracy, and the depressing intractability of the Israel-Palestine situation.”
And Ken Loach, the celebrated director of I Daniel Blake, commented on the documentary’s focus as follows:-
“The case of Jackie Walker is important. This film asks whether her lengthy suspension from the Labour Party and attempts to expel her are fair, or an injustice which should be challenged. She is not the only one in this position. See the film and make up your own mind”
Unfortunately, anyone who wanted to see it at the House of Commons was prevented from doing so by the objections of MPs such as Rosie Duffield.
Duffield’s subsequent tweet of rejection towards anyone who showed support for Chris Williamson, was greeted by many with dismay – but also offence. Eric Segal, who is a Socialist, Jewish, a member of Unite and Secretary of the South East Kent Trades Union council, responded as follows:-
I’ve been asked to defriend Rosie Duffield Canterbury MP for my concern at the suspension of Chris Williamson MP for his alleged anti Semitic comments. My reply to Rosie is:
“Hallo Rosie, you have asked me to defriend you on Twitter for expressing my concern at the suspension of the Labour MP Chris Williamson.
Rosie, my paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Kiev in Ukraine. Most if not all of our remaining relatives were murdered by the nazis for being Jewish. You may want to read about this in the book about Babi Yar the largest recorded case of genocide.
My maternal grandparents were also Jewish refugees from a small village near Warsaw in Poland. They were socialists and were forced to flee from persecution. My grandfather arrived in Britain and he continued his battles as a trade unionist fighting for a shorter working week in the tailor and garment workers union.
My grandfathers and grandfathers brothers and sisters nieces and nephews were also murdered in the death camps or on the death march out of Auschwitz for the crime of being Jewish.
I try to follow in the footsteps of socialists such as my grandfather and I consider your decision to attempt defriend me on Twitter an affront to the ideas and principles of true socialists, regards Eric Segal”
Mr Segal went on to explain to Duffield, on Twitter, that Chris Williamson had used official statistics published by the General Secretary of the Labour Party to “confirm that over the last 10 months complaints received led to 453 cases being investigated for antisemitism which equals 1/12th of 1% of the membership”. Duffield replied to Segal: “Thanks for your important and fascinating contribution Eric, now please do as I asked (as you are clearly a Chris Williamson fan) and unfollow me.”
Presumably, in an effort to clarify her position for constituents, Rosie Duffield posted the following comment on Facebook:-
Having read these comments, South Thanet constituent, Jason Tipple, asked Duffield if she had reported the individuals she had accused of anti-Semitism, and what was the outcome? Tipple says that Duffield then deleted him from her Facebook page – along with someone else “who had asked her to consider looking at the views of Jewish Voice for Labour.”
Duffield’s reference to “Luciana” is clearly to the former Labour MP, Luciana Berger, who recently, and controversially, deserted Duffield’s “beloved” Labour Party while choosing nonetheless to hold on to her parliamentary seat, and salary, and refusing to test her constituency’s allegiance to her with a by-election. But it was the mention of our own MP’s support for Ella Rose that caused immediate concern for many of Duffield’s constituents, including Diane Langford, a Labour Party member, former trade union worker and campaigner for the NHS as well as for Palestinian human rights, who commented as follows:-
“I was extremely disturbed to learn that our MP, Rosie Duffield, should count Ella Rose amongst her ‘friends’ and ‘reliable guides’. Is Ms Duffield not aware that Ms Rose was directly employed by the Israeli Embassy and, was filmed, while director of Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), threatening to use the Israeli army fighting technique, Krav Maga, to ‘take’ Black Jewish writer and activist, Jackie Walker?”
“Furthermore,” says Langford, “Ms Duffield appears to ventriloquise Ms Rose by cynically adopting the language of anti-racists. But Palestine Solidarity campaigners have long been at pains to point out that criticism of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and resisted the Israeli tactic of diverting attention from its crimes against Palestinians by conflating the two. For Ms Duffield to twist matters, by accusing some local Labour Party members of using ‘anti-semitic and racist myths and tropes about Jews’ is not only bizarre, but grossly insulting.”
Diane Langford asks why Duffield “follows the lead of the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel” after Joan Ryan MP was filmed trying to set up a Labour Member as an anti-Semite merely for asking how a two-state solution would be possible while Israel is building settlements all over the West Bank? Ryan remains chair of Labour Friends of Israel – although she, too, has resigned from the Labour Party.
Langford believes that members of JLM and Friends of Israel “clearly dread, and will work ceaselessly against, the possibility of a Corbyn-led government that might seek justice for Palestine.” She goes on to ask: “Was Ms Duffield already a supporter of such lobbyists before taking office? Or groomed and used by them subsequently? Does our MP fully understand the implications of her actions, making her avowed support for Corbyn dubious? If so, surely she is allied to those who are consciously working to sabotage him?”
Certainly, Duffield’s chosen support for Jewish Labour Movement – above that of Jewish Voice for Labour – raises further questions – for me in particular. Last year, Duffield was photographed at a rally in Westminster that was ostensibly against ‘anti-Semitism” but populated by extreme right wing elements.
Many Canterbury constituents questioned why our MP was supporting an event widely viewed as anti-Corbyn, and attended by the likes of Ian Paisley Jnr and the former Thatcher ally, Norman Tebbit. Members of Jewish Voice for Labour were also there, but speaking up for Jeremy Corbyn, and against the allegations of anti-Semitism that had been ranged against the Labour leader at the event and in the mainstream media.
At that time, I found myself engaged in an online conversation with a member of JVL who suggested I might like to join the group. Although I have Jewish heritage, I learned that this was not required for membership because JVL admits members who “identify as Jewish.” However, it only allows full membership to Labour Party members.
In fact, I am a Labour “supporter” and belong to no political party, so I could not have joined the group – even had I wanted to. But out of curiosity, I then checked the membership requirements of Jewish Labour Movement on Wikipedia to discover that although the organisation boasts a long affiliation to the Labour Party, “the Jewish Labour Movement accepts full membership to both non-Jewish and non-Labour Party members.“
This raised the question for me of exactly how many members of JLM might be hostile to the Labour Party, in general, and to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in particular. If JLM consists of members who are non-Jewish and non-Labour, even Norman Tebbit would not have been excluded – and yet the group is often described in the mainstream media as “the Jewish community” – thereby marginalising, if not totally ignoring, the Jewish community of JVL. This week I learned that Rosie Duffield herself is actually a fully paid up member of JLM – as she boasted on a Twitter post.
It would be good to know if Duffield ever thought to check the membership requirements for either group before she joined Jewish Labour Movement and why she chose only to make “friends” among JLM. Could it be that perhaps it was they who made friends with Rosie?
Our previous Labour parliamentary candidate in Canterbury constituency was the respected former deputy general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Hugh Lanning. Lanning also happened to be the Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) – a position he had held since 2009. Members and supporters of our Constituency Labour Party (CLP) expected Lanning to stand in the 2017 general election, particularly as he had greatly increased the local Labour vote in 2015. However, as Diane Langford articulates, “Rosie Duffield was imposed on us, at the very last moment, and without a proper selection process.”
Why that should have happened is a question still being asked by many in the CLP – who also complain they have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. I, too, as an ordinary constituent, have found Canterbury CLP to be unhelpful of late.
While expressing on social media my personal concern for my MP’s signature appearing on the Labour Tribune letter, I received a facetious response from the local party’s Twitter account informing me “As a non-member of the Labour Party, it’s something you really don’t need to worry yourself about too much Julie.”
I reminded them that, while it’s true I am not a party member, I am, nevertheless, a Canterbury constituent “and what our MP does, says – and writes on social media – impacts upon me and every other constituent she’s charged to represent in parliament. This is not all about you at the CLP -though you seem to think it is. That’s a great shame.”
Are Rosie Duffield’s constituents considered to be less important than local party members? It would appear Canterbury CLP thinks so, but considering the MP’s slim majority of only 187 votes, our MP would do well to reverse thinking on that. In fact, Duffield’s electoral victory in Canterbury was due to the hard work of many people across the whole district, including a “paint the town red” campaign in my own town of Whitstable by which residents were persuaded to display Labour signs conspicuously on their properties – and so give the lie to the mainstream media slur that Corbyn was unelectable. The campaign was successful, but the signs were for Labour – not Duffield.
As mentioned, Luciana Berger has now deserted Labour for the Independent Group, formed not only of the disgruntled Labour exiles: Chukka Umunna. Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin, Shuker, Joan Ryan and Angela Smith (she of the “funny tinge” gaffs and malapropisms) but also disgruntled Tories to boot.
While MPs of all parties have rightfully decried any bullying or threats that Berger may have received on social media and elsewhere – it’s equally important to note that this kind of atrocious conduct is not wholly reserved for Berger or other Jewish Labour MPs. Jackie Walker’s acclaimed play, The Lynching, formerly performed as a one-woman show at our own Whitstable Labour Club, though after significant opposition by Rosie Duffield, (who also failed to attend the performance) has been re-cast featuring three professional actors. The revamped play was given a reading for an invited audience last week in London – though at a secret venue – in consideration of the fact that a previous event Jackie Walker was attending had to be cancelled due to a bomb threat.
Even while writing this piece, I have discovered that both Naomi Idrissi-Wimbourne and Jenny Manson, of JVL, have received recent threats:-
Naomi Wimborne-idrissi reports
“The Witchhunt is coming closer to home. My Jewish Voice for Labour comrade Jenny Manson and I have received several threatening phone calls over recent days. I’ve just been told, by a male voice calling from a private number, ‘You’re the next to go, you’re the next to go, we have files on you, you’re the next to go.’ Police have been informed.”
I also wonder if my MP is aware of the fear of solidarity between the Black community and Palestinians? “From Ferguson to Palestine” was a slogan that caused Zionist groups in the USA to denounce Black Lives Matter and withdraw support from the organisation. This is mirrored in the UK by the disproportionate number of Black activists who have been caught up in the Labour Party “witch hunt” of Palestine supporters – notably Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth, while the issue of Black deaths in custody at the hands of the state, the rise in anti-Black racism and Islamophobia are ignored by the pro-Israel MPs.
It should be noted that Chris Williamson had been active on this issue, attending and also speaking at the Grassroots Black Left Labour Party conference fringe meeting in Liverpool on the theme of building a new anti-racist movement.
Whether my MP likes it or not, there are many people – Labour members as well as Canterbury constituents – for whom the following statement resonates:-
“In truth, the crisis in the Labour Party was not primarily about anti-Semitism. It was part of a broader effort by a group of disgruntled Blairites and their allies outside the party to overthrow Jeremy Corbyn and to reverse his progressive policies.”
Not my words, but those of Avi Shlaim, a Jewish Oxford professor reviewing Al Jazeera’s expose of interference in British politics in general and the Labour Party in particular.
Diane Langford poses some further questions for Rosie Duffield regarding the latter’s unswerving faith in “friends” such as Berger, Rose and JLM:
“Whose interests are being served by MPs supporting the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel and the apartheid Israeli regime? Constituents who voted for Ms Duffield deserve answers. They certainly question the hubris of a recent arrival in the House of Commons assuming the right to endorse the suspension of an MP of the calibre of Chris Williamson, whose position has been wholly distorted and misrepresented. On whose behalf does Rosie Duffield take such actions? We believe we deserve better representation.”
Finally, Mike Kennard of Chatham and Aylesford Labour, publicly posted the following letter that he wrote to Jeremy Corbyn last week. It’s a passionate plea and sums up the views of so many lifelong supporters of Labour on an issue which, at best, seems largely misunderstood and at worst, tragically and ineffectively manipulated by those who seek to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. I wonder if Rosie Duffield has read it – or will she continue only to express the views of her “friends” in JLM?
I am writing to express my solidarity with Chris Williamson and my disgust at his suspension for expressing views with which I concur.
The Labour Party is currently the major party with the best anti-racist record and the least anti-semitic. The furore created by the right wing, in conjunction with their friends in the media and in other parties is not about anti-semitism, it is aimed at stopping the turn back towards socialist policies, at our support for Palestinian rights and at your leadership in particular. The measures that have been taken, including the ill-judged adoption of the flawed IHRA definition, will never be enough because the Party has buckled instead of standing up for our programme and record. There is a principle on social media which would be appropriate in this case, i.e. don’t feed the trolls, the taste of blood just makes them hungrier.
There is no place for racism of any sort, and as Jenny Formby has shown, action has been taken at a faster rate that under the previous administration. No expressions of anti-semitic views are acceptable and must be dealt with. Where they represent deeply held prejudice the holder must be removed from the Party. Sometimes justified anger at the actions of the violent and rapacious Israeli state spills over into ill-judged attitudes towards Jews; in this case, strongly worded reprimands and re-education should be the initial response, proceeding to further action if no change in attitude is seen. However, we should not be blind to the activities of the Israeli embassy in this whole campaign. Fortunately Joan Ryan is by her own choice no longer a member, but she should have been suspended when she was revealed as the agent of an alien foreign power within the PLP.
The suspension of Chris Williamson is already starting to have the effect desired by the right wing, with some socialists walking out in disgust. If you do not take a stand you will have negated your own history as a stalwart for socialism throughout the dark days of New Labour and betrayed the hundreds of thousands of new members who have flocked to the Party since 2015.
I write this not as a young and idealistic novice but as someone who first joined the Party during the general election – in 1964.
(membership no. L1296386)
If you are a Labour Party member you can put your name to a document in solidarity with Chris Williamson MP: here
Julie Wassmer lives in Whitstable. She’s a writer and campaigner for human rights and environmental issues such as fracking.
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