MPs and Jewish groups have called for the expulsion of a senior Labour figure who was apparently caught on tape claiming anti-Semitism has been “whipped up” by the Israeli embassy working within the party.
Pete Willsman was controversially re-elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) last year, despite having already been caught claiming Jewish “Trump fanatics” were “making up” anti-Semitism claims.
In a recording obtained by LBC, a man said to be Mr Willsman talks about how people will “move heaven and earth” to “avoid paying taxes”, before claiming Israeli agents are at work within the party.
He said: “One of these things about anti-Semitism is they will use anything to whip people up – they will use anything, any lies, it’s all total lies, they just whip it up.
“This is off the record, it’s almost certain who is behind all this anti-Semitism against Jeremy, almost certainly it’s the Israeli embassy.
“Yeah, because they caught somebody in the Labour Party and it turns out they were an agent of the embassy.”
Mr Willsman then apparently claims that 68 rabbis who complained of “widespread and severe” anti-Semitism in Labour were organised by the Israeli embassy.
He asked: “Is 70 out of 600,000 widespread and severe?”
A Labour Party spokeswoman confirmed an investigation would be launched into Mr Willsman’s alleged comments.
She said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.
“All complaints about anti-Semitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said Mr Willsman must be suspended immediately: “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 anti-Semitism 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.”
Labour MP Stella Creasy also said Mr Willsman must go.
She tweeted: “Anyone who supported Willsman for the NEC after the first revelations needs to hang their head in shame they indulged this hatred *eyeballs WF momentum*
“He must now surely be gone from labour and we have to have an independent complaints system now.”
Labour MP for Burmingham Yardley Jess Phillips said Mr Willsman should be suspended from the party.
She tweeted: “Amongst other things Pete Willsman is an antisemite, while he remains on the NEC it will completely lack authority.
“He should be suspended from the party not just the NEC.”
Labour MP Liz Kendall also condemned the remarks, which she said have “no place in our party”.
She tweeted: “Appalling and totally unacceptable. These views have no place in our party, let alone on our ruling body.”
Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl called for the expulsion of Mr Willsman, saying he should have been suspended last year.
She said: “Peter Willsman – a man who should have been suspended for anti-Jewish statements last year – has not only denied anti-Semitism in the Labour Party but has resorted to a well-known anti-Semitic trope to make his point.
“We call on the leader, Jeremy Corbyn and general secretary, Jennie Formby, who were present at Mr Willsman’s first outburst and who have repeatedly indulged his bigotry, to ensure he is expelled with the speed and efficiency we have seen in other recent disciplinary cases.”
Fiona Sharpe, spokeswoman for Labour Against Anti-Semitism, said the alleged comments were “grossly offensive and unarguably antisemitic”.
She demanded there should be zero tolerance after figures like shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Willsman should be “given the benefit of the doubt”.
She added: “There should be no place for him in mainstream British politics and he should be kicked off the Labour’s ruling body, the NEC, and out of the Labour Party.
“This is not the first time Mr Willsman has reportedly made anti-Jewish remarks.
“There can be no such latitude given now. Acting general secretary Karie Murphy must make good on the promise made by her predecessor and move to expel Mr Willsman immediately.”
Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild tweeted: “As one of the rabbis who signed the letter I can categorically tell you we noticed and abhorred the #antisemitism in @UKLabour, we think for ourselves and the Israeli embassy were not involved at any point.
“This continued slur on our motives is unacceptable.”