For those of us who have been following the Chris Williamson antisemitism affair, this week has brought some sense of relief. Williamson has resigned from the Labour Party, and in his resignation letter was accused of antisemitism by the Jewish Labour Movement. I still believe however, that the resignation of Williamson does not come close to remedying the Labour Party’s antisemitism issue. Williamson’s own rhetoric in his talk to the University of Nottingham School of Politics indicates why.
I had the displeasure of meeting Williamson when he came to Nottingham, my university, for a Politics department lecture. Many students, including myself, were outraged by the invitation of a man who has been accused of being antisemitic.
In response, we organised a protest to the event. We had a large turnout of students representing a diverse spread of political, religious and social perspectives including representatives from the Liberal Democrat Society, the Labour Society and the Conservative Society. Jewish and Zionist students as well as Catholic students stood together. Despite the rain, we had an impressive turnout of about 50-60 students. I also attended the talk itself, during which one of our members confronted Williamson in the Q+A section in a video that has now been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online. When Williamson was called an “antisemite” to his face, he of course protested, claiming that he was being smeared. He tried to lean on his record as an anti-racist campaigner for the “party of anti-racism”. We (the protest organisers) were also accused of trying to shut down freedom of speech… but today we are vindicated. Williamson reverted to classic Zionist conspiracy theories and Israeli interference rhetoric in his resignation letter. His language in the letter is a clear violation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism that the Labour party adopted in September last year. Likewise, through closer examination of Williamson’s rhetoric in the lecture, I believe there are important insights to be learned about the nature of modern left-wing antisemitism.
Williamson’s talk was, at first, fairly innocuous. He began by asking if there were any socialists in the room. To his, and admittedly to my surprise as well, he received a pretty meagre response. Nevertheless, he rattled on about trade unions and Brexit, the first point of controversy being his belief that “if the likes of Alan Sugar claim they’ll leave the country if Corbyn is elected, they are welcome to”. It wasn’t clear to me when talking about the “likes of Alan Sugar” whether he meant the Jews or the millionaires or both. However, it is important to note that Sugar’s promise to leave if the emergence of a Corbyn premiership can to fruition was not a promise as a business man, but was stated out of worry for his “children and [my] grandchildren]”. Furthermore, last September it was reported that nearly 40% of British Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became prime minister. I haven’t seen the percentage of millionaires who said they would be emigrating, although I imagine it is significantly lower.
By the time the Q&A started, the crowd of Politics students were already jumping on Williamson about his defence of failing socialist utopias. It wasn’t long until the elephant in the room was addressed. In what is now a viral video, one Jewish student loudly called Williamson out on his reported record of defending antisemitism. The student addressed a large chunk of Williamson’s record, as well as the fact that Chris is a member of a “sewer of racist groups on Facebook”. He powered through the lecturer’s attempts to silence him, before asking him clearly “are you just the most unlucky anti-racist campaigner or are you just an outright liar?” Williamson’s defence, after insulting the student and calling his (and our) criticisms an “abusive smear”, was based on the record of the Labour Party (of which he is no longer a member) as an anti-racist party. “But what about you Chris?, We are talking about you”, the student rightly pointed out. This seems to me to be the greatest hypocrisy of the day. Williamson is an unapologetic socialist – a Collectivist first and an individual second in his own estimations, yet he has consistently defended individuals on the basis of the political party they identify with. This blindness to the accountability of individuals could be a factor in why this Labour antisemitism scandal has lasted so long. The underlying assumption that Williamson and the Corbynite string of Labour members hold is that so long as the general group ideology is positive, then the actions and behaviours of the individuals within it are irrelevant. It’s no secret that the Labour Party under Corbyn has jumped further to the left. However, Williamson’s rhetoric shows that the biggest jump and the most dangerous is the belief that progressive ends justify means. Or to rephrase, if the ends are utopian, the means cannot be racist.
A second important insight can be discerned from his response to the student. Williamson reasoned that “If you are a screaming racist or an antisemite, why would you join a party with a tradition of fighting racism? […] Surely you’d be far better off joining a fascist party like the British National Party or one of those sort of organisations.” This is an important moment to note, as it represents the blindness of the left in their belief that all antisemitism resides on the far-right.
The political spectrum has been described as a horseshoe in how ideologies have become similar in their extreme forms. Hatred of the Jews seems to be one of these similarities. To quote my father for a useful political mnemonic, “extreme views blame Jews”. Just as political movement towards the right increase Jewish scapegoating, the more radically socialist the Labour party becomes then the more antisemitism will continue to rise. Corbyn as leader has overseen an ideological shift to the left, giving a platform to hard socialists like Williamson, blind to the antisemitic damage they cause in their pursuit of radical utopias.
As Williamson’s resignation letter exposed, and as the context of almost all of the incidences of alleged Jew-hate he has been involved with indicates, support for Israel clashes with the rising far-left Labour views. Being Jewish in the UK means being able to choose whether or not to support Israel. The story of Israel is, however, incompatible with the Marxist narrative. When viewing every group through the lenses of the oppressor and oppressed, the bourgeois and proletariat, it becomes very easy to ignore the historical and cultural differences, as well as any other complicating factors to the narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. When the likes of Williamson divide the world into the oppressors and the oppressed binary, Jews are so often seen to be the oppressors when all of history spells out the complete opposite narrative. These views are worsened when coupled with the centuries old antisemitic stereotypes about Jews and wealth. Once again, it seems telling that it was “the likes of Alan Sugar” that Williamson saw fit to be his archetype of the greedy millionaire.
In the far-left’s vilification of religion, oversimplified narrative worldview, and blindness to its own flaws, it seems that the more radical Labour becomes, then the more it will continue to alienate and ostracise its Jewish members. Furthermore, it will become increasingly attractive to those who conveniently see the collective Jewish population as the ‘oppressive bourgeois’ they so despise. I am not surprised that Williamson is a figurehead for this mentality, but as a Jewish student in the UK that antisemitism grows with radicalism… and that Williamson is far from the end of it.