Corbyn ally Peter Willsman suspended after 'antisemitic rant'

31 May 2019, 11:37 | Updated: 31 May 2019, 13:09

One of Jeremy Corbyn's close allies has been suspended from the party after he was recorded claiming Labour’s antisemitism crisis was "whipped up" by the Israeli embassy, according to Sky sources.

Pete Willsman, who sits on Labour's ruling committee, was heard claiming Labour staff "work indirectly" for the embassy.

He accused Israel of being behind an open letter from 68 rabbis expressing concern about antisemitism in the party.

In an email seen by Sky News from the party's powerful National Executive Committee (NEC), it said: "We have received a number of complaints, including from NEC members, about Peter Willsman's latest comments, as reported on LBC this morning.

"I am writing to let you know that we took the decision earlier this morning to administratively suspend Peter, pending disciplinary action."

Labour MPs said Mr Willsman, who was re-elected to the NEC last summer, should be thrown out of the party after the recording was made public.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson had demanded the immediate suspension over what he called an "antisemitic rant".

Mr Watson said: "The fact that a member of Labour's governing body feels he can continue to make such offensive remarks after being warned for similar outbursts previously shows how serious the problem of antisemitism is in our party.

"The general secretary must make good on the promise that was made following Mr Willsman's previous outburst, that he would face disciplinary action if he engaged in similar conduct again.

"He must be suspended from the NEC and from party membership immediately."

The campaign group Labour Against Anti-Semitism said the comments were "grossly offensive and unarguably antisemitic".

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: "This is jaw-dropping stuff, even by Pete Willsman's standards. I am in absolutely no doubt he should go."

In a statement, the Jewish Labour Movement said: "Pete Willsman is not fit to be on Labour's NEC. Jeremy Corbyn must demand his resignation today and expulsion proceedings should begin."

The recording, obtained by LBC Radio, is of Willsman talking to German author Tuvia Tenenbom, at a chance meeting at a hotel restaurant in Oxford in January - where Mr Tenenbom was staying to promote a new book.

He described getting into a chance conversation with Mr Willsman, who was not aware that he was Jewish, and that Mr Willsman bragged about his closeness to Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Willsman is overheard saying: "The rich control the papers. The rich control everything else, and the rich know he's going to make them pay taxes and they'll move heaven and earth to…

"And one of these things about antisemitism is that they're using that to whip people up. They'll use anything - any lies. It's all total lies and they just whip it up.

"I'll tell you what - and this is off the record. It's almost certain who is behind all this antisemitism against Jeremy, almost certainly it was the Israeli embassy, because they caught somebody in the Labour party, it turns out they were an agent in the embassy.

"One of them works indirectly for the Israeli embassy. I wouldn't want to be bothered to find out but my guess would be they're the ones whipping it up all the time."

He went on: "In the Guardian not long ago we had 68 rabbis - obviously organised by the Israeli embassy - saying antisemitism in the Labour party is widespread and severe."

Mr Willsman has been accused of antisemitism before. Last summer, he was recorded attacking rabbis who spoke out against antisemitism and accusing some Jews of being "Trump fanatics"

Despite the Corbyn supporters group Momentum dropping their support for him, he escaped formal investigation and was voted back onto the NEC.

Critics accuse Labour of being swift to expel those who voted Liberal Democrat in last week's European elections but taking months or years to take decisions on cases of antisemitism.

A Labour party spokeswoman said: "The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.

"All complaints about antisemitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken."