POLITICS
01/08/2018 20:33 BST | Updated 02/08/2018 10:09 BST

Momentum Pulls Support For Peter Willsman After 'Deeply Insensitive' Anti-Semitism Rant

Pro-Corbyn group's statement risks sinking his re-election to Labour's ruling body.

PA Wire/PA Images

The grassroots campaign group that backs Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has withdrawn its support for Peter Willsman as he seeks re-election to Labour’s ruling body after his “deeply insensitive” comments about Jews.

Momentum’s intervention comes after Willsman apologised after calling some members of the Jewish community “Trump fanatics” and suggested they were “making up” problems about anti-Semitism in the party.

The grassroots campaign group also stressed the need to acknowledge the “anger and upset” felt within the British Jewish community as it reaffirmed its commitment to “rooting out” anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and across society.

Momentum maintained its support for eight other National Executive Committee (NEC) candidates who support Labour leader Corbyn.

Momentum, in a statement released on Twitter, said: “The elected officers of the national coordinating group (NCG) have decided to withdraw Momentum’s support for Pete Willsman in Labour’s ongoing NEC election.

“While it is welcome that he has made a full apology and will attend equalities training, his comments were deeply insensitive and inappropriate for a Momentum-backed NEC candidate.”

The Momentum statement added: “Our movement is more than half a million strong and we must hold those who represent us to an even higher standard than ordinary Labour Party members.

“We must also acknowledge the anger and upset felt within the British Jewish community and reaffirm our commitment to rooting out anti-Semitism both in the party and across society.

“We recognise Pete’s many years of service to the movement. In the coming months, we will review how we choose NEC candidates and work with other groups to make sure that our process is as open and transparent as possible.”

Willsman apologised, acknowledged the “offensive nature of my comments” and referred himself for equalities training after a recording emerged of his comments at an NEC meeting.

But Jewish leaders called for Labour to expel him.

Willsman, in the clip acquired by the Jewish Chronicle, could be heard saying with a raised voice: “Some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump – they are Trump fanatics and all the rest of it.

“So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up information without any evidence at all.

“So I think we should ask the 70 rabbis ‘Where is your evidence of severe and widespread anti-Semitism in this party?’”

In an open letter earlier this month, 68 rabbis called on Labour to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, including its examples.

They said anti-Semitism within “sections of the Labour Party” had become “so severe and widespread that we must speak out with one Jewish voice”.

But the NEC did not include all of the illustrative examples set out by the IHRA.

Labour insisted that, while they were not reproduced word for word, they are covered in the new code.

Richard Angell, director of Progress, said: “This half measure is welcome from Momentum but Pete Willsman should not just be off their slate but off the whole NEC and facing disaplinary action.

“It is time that zero tolerance on antisemitism meant something, not warm words for PR purposes. Momentum should really be demand he resign his NEC seat and no longer have a say at Labour’s top table.

“Having lost the support of those who put him there, it is time he consider his position.”