See also A "plus" where the MSM put a "minus"
Chris Williamson MP told a meeting of Sheffield Momentum on 23 February that on antisemitism: “We’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.”
Whether Williamson is himself an antisemite, or merely monumentally insensitive and unconcerned about what Jewish people think about the Labour party, is conjecture. As a matter of record, he has form in supporting people who most definitely are antisemites: He signed a petition defending the notorious holocaust-justifier Gilad Atzmon, tweeted the petition, then deleted the tweet, later writing an unconvincing apology. He’s also defended Cyril Chilson, an Atzmon-supporting antisemite who was expelled from Labour. He apparently lied about not knowing about the antisemitism that got Scott Nelson expelled, and then effectively revealed he was lying by insisting Nelson had apologised.
He has a taste for conspiracy theories and authoritarian regimes. He happily shared a platform with, and then tweeted praise for, Vanessa Beeley, a cheer-leader for Assad’s regime in Syria (and another Atzmon fan and 9/11 “truther”). His uncritical support for Maduro’s increasingly brutal regime in Venezuela has attracted rather less comment than it perhaps deserves. With a track record like that it’s hardly a surprise that Mr Williamson is a favourite of the Morning Star’s.
The paper’s initial reaction to the story was to carry a piece by one Bernadette Horton, a self-styled “ordinary” Labour party member who claims to now be “frightened” to use the words “Israel” or “Palestine” on social media for fear that “those words are being picked up in algorithms by the Labour compliance unit, and the next minute the suspension letter from the party lands on your doormat”.
The next day, following Williamson’s suspension from the party, the Morning Star quoted Jewish Voice for Labour’s Mike Cushman (a long-standing anti-Israel campaigner and absolute anti-Zionist) calling it “madness” (the suspension, not what Williamson said) and its own editor Ben Chacko saying “Chris Williamson is an outstanding MP. The party and movement will be the poorer if MPs who couldn’t care less whether their party is elected succeed in turfing him out.”
Following that, the Morning Star, in effect, shouted “Over there!”, with a front page attacking the Yorkshire Post (the paper that broke the Williamson story) for having carried columns by Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP who once described an Israeli soldier as a “bloody Jew” and used other racist language (though not in the Yorkshire Post): what any of that has to do with what Williamson said, or why the Morning Star considered it worthy of front-page coverage, remains a mystery. Nothing, you will note, about whether what Williamson said is acceptable or could be construed as either antisemitic in itself or apologising for antisemitism.
But then, the Morning Star has a pretty poor track record when it comes to noticing antisemitism. In June 2018 the paper published an article headlined “Rising antisemitism cannot be tackled without addressing Israel’s crimes”. The article said: “No amount of protestations about the symptoms of rising antisemitism or antiIsrael sentiment in Britain and elsewhere will end the problem until its root cause — Israel’s criminal behaviour — is dealt with.”
Only when two longstanding Jewish Communist Party members and Morning Star supporters, Phil Katz and Mary Davis, wrote a letter of protest, did the paper seem to realise it had made a mistake — running a too explicit and clear-cut statement of what it really believes. The article was taken down from the paper’s website and an apology printed. Mary Davis, it should be noted, had previously written to the paper (in 2016) to protest at a regular column being given to Ken Livingstone immediately after his suspension from the Labour Party:
The Morning Star’s regression back to Stalinist absolute anti-Zionism and antisemitic conspiracy theorising seems to have gained pace since the arrival of current editor Ben Chacko in 2014. In fairness to him, it should be noted that in September 2012, under his predecessor, Richard Bagley, the paper published a piece attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. The article stated, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia]… cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.”
It repeatedly and gratuitously brought Jews into the argument, defended Putin against media criticism, described Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supported the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy”. What the Morning Star and its then editor claimed to be unaware of was that the author of the piece was one Israel Shamir, who (despite his adopted name) is a notorious antisemite and holocaust denier. A brief Google search would have rendered this information. Eventually, a mealy-mouthed apology was published.
But back to Williamson and antisemitism: eventually (in the editorial of 28 Feb) the Morning Star made its position clear on the substantive issue: “The Labour Party does not have a widespread problem of antisemitism. If it did we would see a substantial proportion of its membership facing prosecutions for acts of violence or intimidation against people, convictions for hate speech in person or on social media and an avalanche of evidence-backed instances referred to the party’s disciplinary machinery... we would see police investigations and extensive monitoring by the security services.”
So that’s pretty conclusive, isn’t it? Unless the cops and MI5 are involved, there can’t be any antisemitism about. John Harris, a left-reformist writer for the liberal Guardian, puts the Morning Star and similar apologists for antisemitism to shame in a recent column (4 March): “This awful tragedy [of the loss of Jewish people’s trust in the Labour party] demands a cultural transformation, which ought to begin with something I always thought people on the left understood as a matter of instinct: that when faced with bigotry, you listen not to the voices of denial and doubt, but to the people on the receiving end of it.”