What's wrong with Chris Williamson?

I've lost count of the number of times I've seen people on Twitter - whether ignorantly or disingenuously - claiming to not know what's wrong with Chris Williamson.

Here are just a few of the things. I'm starting with some that have nothing to do with antisemitism. And the antisemitism issues I'm including having nothing to do with Israel-Palestine, so please don't tell me that all Williamson has done is criticise Israel. Some of this was in my older posts about him (here and here). A lot of the material is via Twitter, because Williamson is a prolific tweeter, but Williamson blocked me on Twitter on Holocaust Memorial Day this year, so I also drew for the antisemitism section on Twitter threads by Marlon Solomon and Barny Skinner and Daniel Sugarman's article.

RED TORY

I want to start with Williamson's politics. The #IStandWithChrisWilliamson online army see him as being under attack because he represents the left of the party. How does that claim stand up?

1. The time Williamson entered into coalition government with the Tories and drove through privatisation

Chris Williamson entered politics in his thirties via local politics in Derby, eventually becoming leader of Derby council. How did that go? He formed an alliance with the Conservatives, demolished council flats to make way for a 5* hotel, and supported PFI initiatives for housing, which he later said did not deliver value for money.

2. The times Williamson didn't vote with the left

Williamson likes to describe himself as a life-long anti-racist, but he didn't vote against the racist immigration legislation that led to the Hostile Environment and Windrush. He also - with Kate Hoey, Ruth Smeeth and John Mann - rebelled against the Labour whip in several of the recent EU debates, voting against the interests of EU migrants.

SYRIA

3. The time Williamson promoted a Syrian war crimes denier

For me, one of the most unforgivable things Williamson has done, last summer, was promote Vanessa Beeley, a war crimes denier and fake news merchant. Here is an extract from Oz Katerji in the New Statesman on this incident:
Williamson, who was attending the Beautiful Days festival, tweeted of his “privilege” in meeting Vanessa Beeley, a blogger who described meeting the Syrian regime’s war criminal president Bashar al Assad as her “proudest moment” and has waged a relentless campaign of lies and distortion to promote the Assad regime abroad... Responding in kind to Williamson’s endorsement, Beeley said in a Facebook post “Hats off to Chris Williamson, Labour MP - a genuine human being.”... 
Williamson’s tweet provoked immediate condemnation, drawing a strong response from James O’Brien, who called Williamson a “disgrace” and referred to Beeley as “Assad’s very own Alex Jones.” The Washington Post’s Middle East correspondent, Louisa Loveluck, responded to Williamson’s endorsement of Beeley’s “reporting” with: “Beeley has justified the use of incendiary weapons against civilians, recycled and championed debunked conspiracy theories, and described a meeting with Assad as her proudest moment. This is cheerleading, not reporting.”
Noting that Beeley has viciously slandered the late Jo Cox (Beeley "has shamelessly accused her of being a “warmongering Blairite” and “al-Qaeda advocate” endorsing a policy of “wholesale devastation” on Syria.) Oz argues that the Labour Party has a choice between being the party of Jo Cox or the party of Chris Williamson.
At the festival, participants were asked to vote between the position put forward by Peter Tatchell, in support of democracy in Syria and in defence of Syrian civilians being bombed, or for Peter Ford and Vanessa Beeley, in support of the Syrian government. Williamson voted for Ford. In voting for the Beeley/Ford position, Williamson is not just calling attention to alleged media distortion of the conflict; he endorses the dictatorship.

Williamson may not have known this when he tweeted about the "privilege" of meeting her, but Beeley herself has some dodgy form: saying that "Zionists rule France", describing Israel's treatment of Gaza "a Holocaust", saying Human Rights Watch is run by "a Jewish organisation called the Washington elite", and has defended well-known antisemites such as Gilad Atzmon (more on him below) and Alison Weir.

4. The times Williamson promoted fake news about chemical weapons in Syria

As Katerji put it when writing about Williamson's support for Beeley, "This is not Williamson’s first dalliance with pro-Assad trutherism, having voiced doubts over allegations that Assad was responsible for the gas attack on Douma while addressing a protest outside parliament in April 2018."

More recently, Williamson has taken up a particular version of Douma trutherism: that the chemical attack was a managed massacre by rebels and the civilians White Helmet civil defence first responders, and that this is somehow proved by a dubious document (read all about it here) leaked from the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog, probably via Russia, to some pro-Assad activists in the UK called the "Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media", with which Beeley is connected.
Williamson is so obsessed with the "leaked document" that he has asked several questions in parliament about it, worded in completely dishonest ways. The theory holds that chemical weapons in Douma were not dropped from above but staged by Syrian rebels or their civilian first defenders, the White Helmets, i.e. that the rebels massacred dozens of their own family members. In my view, this conspiracy theory is borderline Islamophobic, based on the idea of Syrian rebels and civilians in rebel territories as savage, bloodthirsty jihadis.

(Incidentally, Williamson's views on Douma are shared by Nick Griffin, the Nazi former leader of the BNP. One of Griffin's many tweets on Douma was to promote the exact same "leaked OPCW report" nonsense, from syriapropagandamedia.org, the pro-Assad "Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media", the exact same source of Williamson's recent interventions.)

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

5. The times Williamson promoted an antisemitic right-wing pro-Kremlin Spanish conspiracy theorist and then bought into a Russian conspiracy theory about why people don't like the Spanish conspiracy theorist
One of the many bizarre conspiracy theories Williamson has promoted is one about a Scottish-based thinktank called the Integrity Initiative (II), which receives some UK government funding, that was involved in the campaign to stop a right-wing colonel called Pedro Baños from being appointed a national security advisor in Spain. Williamson picked up the story from Russian media outlets like Sputnik after Russia apparently hacked the thinktank; he claimed Integrity Initiative's involvement constituted "foreign interference" in Spanish politics - a meme Russia promotes because it muddies the water over their intervention in the Trump election and the Brexit referendum. The fact is, though, that Baños is a weird crank in the David Icke mold, and suspiciously obsessed with Jewish financiers like the Rothschilds and Soros, and is a strong supporter of the Kremlin - all in all, a serious liability as a national security advisor. Williamson became so obsessed with the case that he asked question after question about it in parliament, wasting parliamentary, ministerial and civil service time with his personal crusade.
This is dangerous, because Williamson has an influence on the Labour Party, so he acts as a gateway between the Kremlin, social media wingnuts and the political mainstream, in the form of Emily Thornberry. Here's Paul Canning breaking it down:
Thornberry promoted a conspiracist campaign led in the UK by Chris Williamson MP, furthered with the help of people like the notorious Kremlinophile American writer Max Blumenthal, about an organisation called the Integrity Initiative. Thornberry's claim was that Integrity Initiative was set up to 'attack Corbyn'. It was based on three tweets by the Initiative to its 2000 followers – one of which was only retweeted because I did it.
The claims were ludicrous... Thornberry's comments in the Commons [didn't] pick up on the many criticisms of the Initiative from those actively engaged in countering Russian disinfo. Instead they played to the crowd. 
The campaign against the Initiative is based on an obvious attack by Russia which aims to establish a counter, 'I'm rubber you're glue', narrative that it's actually the West that's promoting disinformation. The subject of the attack is an organisation funded by government precisely to counter Russian disinformation. Something which a Labour government would supposedly support, surely?

Those central to the online promotion of the 'conspiracy' narrative, most of whom are also coincidentally truthers on Syria and on Salisbury, said that their real objection was that Integrity Initiative had 'contributed to narrowing the range of public discourse so as to marginalize reality-based evaluation of policy options for relations with Russia and evidence-based assessment of events in which Russian involvement is alleged.' 
Williamson's the parliamentary questions about II, as with Douma or others about the UK's Russian language soft diplomacy, are essentially being asked on behalf of President Putin, which is kind of scary.


6. The time Williamson promoted conspiracy theories about the Skripal poisoning

Another conspiracy theory Williamson has shared, again picked up by alt-left media like The Canary, is that it wasn't the Russians who used chemicals against the Skripals in Salisbury. As with Douma and Baños, it's a conspiracy theory that lets Russia off the hook for its crimes, and so gets amplified by Russian media too.

The Red Roar: "Williamson promoted conspiracy theories about the Salisbury poisoning, and shared the views of one blogger who suggested that Israel could have been behind the attempted murder, which was conducted by Russian intelligence officers. Meanwhile, he took money from Kremlin-backed state media channel Russia Today, and has continued to appear on the channel despite the Russian attack last year."

THE FAR RIGHT

7. The time Williamson has enjoyed the company of Breitbart journalists
In April this year, Williamson went on Russian alt-media site 21st Century Wire with George Galloway and Lee Stranahan. Who is Stranahan? Wikipedia:
Stranahan met Andrew Breitbart while working on assignment in 2010. The two men quickly became friends, and Breitbart converted Stranahan to conservatism, became his mentor, and hired him to work at Breitbart News. Stranahan has also described Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as being his mentor... During the 2016 presidential election, while working for Breitbart News, Stranahan communicated with Russian hackers via Guccifer 2.0 to leak illicitly obtained material about the Democratic Party. Stranahan claimed on Twitter in March 2017 that he had introduced Guccifer 2.0 to Roger Stone. Stranahan, managed to obtain material from Guccifer 2.0 about Black Lives Matter. Stone and Stranahan, who was then assisting him, disputed that Guccifer 2.0 was a front for Russia during the 2016 election. An article by Stone on this issue appeared on Breitbart News; Stranahan has said he was the piece's ghost writer. In July 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian agents and described Guccifer 2.0 as a Russian government front. Mueller's indictment referred to an unnamed reporter who had conferred with the Russians about the timing of a leak; Stranahan has confirmed that he was the journalist concerned
8. The time Williamson promoted a bow-tied Holocaust revisionist 


In his articles in the alternative media and in his parliamentary speeches, Williamson regularly cites the lawyer Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, famous for, among other things, his love of bow ties.
The Venezuelan economy has been cripped by US sanctions, and the UN rapporteur said that UN sanctions are illegal and could amount to a war crime any intervention from the US could precipitate a civil war & lead to a humanitarian catastrophe @DerbyChrisW

As Paul Canning puts it:
de Zayas is the former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. McInnes told the Commons that this 'UN expert' had called sanctions on Venezuela a 'war crime', a statement which drew an audible response. de Zayas and his 'war crimes' claim is a major theme of Chris Williamson's routine, whose Commons outing on Venezuela featuring de Zayas has been heavily promoted by Corbynite social media in marked contrast to Thornberry's effort in the very same Parliamentary session. Williamson appeared on TV numerous times spouting falsehoods about Venezuela....
de Zayas is a Holocaust denier and is a 'huge fan' of the German far-right party the AfD. He's reportedly worn blackface. He's currently saying that Venezuela's electricity blackouts are because of the gringos.

He's also being mentioned in a Parliamentary statement by the Labour Party.
De Zayas has been praised by the Holocaust revisionist Institute for Historical Review, and his Holocaust writings have been published by the far right Taki's Magazine. His Wikipedia page documents his far right activism:
De Zayas is a registered Republican voter, although he supported Bernie Sanders in 2016.Writing  in 2018, he has criticised "Antifa" activists, saying "They engage in 'hate speech' against those who cite the Bible to oppose the imposition of gender and LGBT ideologies"; and has described a "new wave of totalitarianism is sweeping through Germany with the collusion of the mainstream media" originating in the 1968 student revolts, which leads the "mainstream media" to be biased towards topics such as "multiculturalism" and against groups such as Pegida. He is close to the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany, for instance joining the board of trustees of their "'Desiderius Erasmus Foundation' thinktank in 2018 and speaking to their parliamentary group in 2019 on the dangers of "globalism".
His page also documents his Holocaust revisionism, his work on the "genocidal" expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe which has been used to relativise the Nazi genocide - work which has been condemned by Holocaust scholars and championed by the far right.

de Zayas with the AFD's Jürgen Braun at a lecture evening of the AFD parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, March 2019
Image result for "de zayas" holocaust

Which brings us to...

SUPPORTING HOLOCAUST DENIAL

9. The time Williamson signed a petition defending a Holocaust denier


In late 2018, Williamson signed a petition defending Gilad Atzmon, tweeted the petition, then deleted the tweet, and later wrote a half-arsed non-apology. (Atzmon had been banned by Islington council from playing there in the Blockheads. Not sure I approve of this ban, as when he is playing saxophone in someone else's band he hasn't got a platform for his politics. But given how toxic he is, I'm not going to complain about him being considered a pariah.)

If you don't know who Atzmon is, here's over 13 years' worth of my blogposts about him. The short version is he is an Israeli-born jazz musician who long ago renounced his Jewishness, became a Holocaust revisionist and antisemite. Atzmon has promoted Holocaust denial, blamed the Grenfell  fire on “Jerusalemites” who were “following mitzvot”, and suggested that Hitler’s actions against the Jews were a “direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership.” He is not only denounced by anti-fascists like Hope not Hate but also by anti-Zionists such as As’ad AbuKhalil, Michael Rosen and Tony Greenstein.

Williamson's apology reveals he is either more stupid or more dishonest than we already realised but either way confirming he doesn't care at all about racism against Jews. Because either he saw a petition complaining about someone being accused of antisemitism and just assumed the accusation was false without bothering to research it (in which case he is remarkably stupid and irresponsible, as well as automatically assumes accusations of antisemitism are always false) or he's lying.


In August 2018 Williamson had already defended Cyril Chilson, a dedicated follower of Atzmon, who Williamson said should not have been expelled from Labour.


ANTISEMITISM
https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/ndo2qUdbBKsTFInurZAgcF1JKChdVSX3rfnIc28qj_384ohSCv56KA9B-P5aHGI1nUkk9c4rXzIjJF7TxMbvejoHkhcEqhfp3csBATEmQUbmNbfKqDWxT4-stjYY-tRsIA
10. The time Williamson trolled Jews in their time of grief by accusing the Board of Deputies of British Jews of being antisemitic hours after the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre.

In October 2018, as Rosa Doherty describes, "While his colleagues were sending messages of condolences to the Jewish community, the Derby North MP shared a link from the far-left blog Skwawkbox of an article titled: “Board of Deputies president accused of using an antisemitic trope.” He wrote: “Well, well blow me down with a feather.”" (This was not the only time Williamson gratuitously attacked the Board, the representative body of British Jews. A few weeks earlier he attacked them because of the wording when they were condemning Orban's antisemitism.)

11. The bunch of times Williamson said that antisemitism is made up by Jews to damage Jeremy Corbyn.

Chris Williamson said claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party were "proxy wars and bullshit" and "a lowdown dirty trick."

12. The time he defended the guy who ranted about Tesco's having Jewish blood.
One of the many people kicked out of the Labour Party defended by Williamson is Scott Nelson. In late 2014 and again in late 2015, Nelson tweeted: “Deaths of workers abroad caused by appalling conditions working for Jewish companies”. Defending this a couple of days later, he tweeted: “Jewish ancestors created those companies. These companies have Jewish blood. My ancestors were Irish, so I have Irish blood”. He added that: “Pointing out the Jewish ancestors of Tesco and M&S and the human rights abuses of workers abroad doesn’t make me an antisemite.” After his (actually very prompt) removal from the Labour Party, Nelson supported UKIP, but he continues to be a well-known rallying point for antisemites and cranks on the margins of the Corbyn scene. He has continued to post offensive things, e.g. calling Israel similar to the Nazis, calling the Jewish Labour Movement "toxic parasites" while defending Ken Livingstone, repeatedly blaming "the Israel Lobby" for the "witch hunts" against himself and Corbyn, calling people who make allegations of antisemitism "lower than vermin", and publishing a defence of the Holocaust denier Alison Chabloz.

Williamson has retweeted Nelson more than once. When picked up on this by a leftist in 2018, Williamson replied "I am sure he said no such thing. These smears are so wrong, let's please stand together to beat racism and replace of [sic] this abysmal Tory Govt with a Corbyn-led Labour Govt to build a society and an economy that works for the many not the few". So, absolute certainty that an allegation of antisemitism (easy to verify) was not true and a smear. When presented with screenshots, Williamson abruptly changed course, saying Nelson "repeatedly apologised for those comments. He is opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry and he never called for a boycott [of "Jewish companies"]. Please give him a chance." So, the smear wasn't a smear after all but the guy said sorry so it's OK. This is kind of like "He didn't  kill anyone at all and to suggest it is evil but anyway he said he was sorry and only killed one person so give him a chance."

13. The times he's diminished the significance of racism against Jews

I think the earliest time he did this was when he responded to a tweet by Ian Austin (son of a refugee from Hitler) about antisemitism in Oxford Uni Labour Club with a tweet about Israeli brutality. Switching from one topic to another is saying the racism concerns are trivial, and the raising of Israel, simply because the topic is Jews, is, well, racist, because it is associating Jewish students in Oxford with the crimes of the state thousands of miles away, simply because of common ethnicity. A bit like responding to a tweet about Islamophobia with a tweet about the Islamic Republic of Iran or responding to a tweet about anti-black racism with a tweet about Robert Mugabe.
14. The times he's defended people justifiably accused of anti-Jewish racism

Later, when Pete Willsman's NEC candidacy was disowned by the left when a recording of an antisemitic rant by him in which he daubed Jews with being right-wing Trump supporters, Williamson defended Willsman.




Willsman is not the only person with an antisemitism allegation who Williamson has stood by. Maybe some of these by themselves could be defended, but standing by all of them constitutes a pattern. Here he is standby Miko "people should be free to debate the Holocaust, yes or no" Peled:

15. The times he retweeted antisemites

Anti-Nazis United has documented the many, many borderline (and worse) antisemitic accounts Williamson has promoted. "They vary between simple misanthropes, conspiracy theorists to the odd antisemite or 3+. Some are very happy in the company of neo-Nazis or promoting material from Holocaust denying propagandists. The common theme is that all express contempt for Jews in one way shape or form."

One of the worst was Sonia Mata, a Holocaust denier who says the Talmud promotes paedophilia.

LATIN AMERICA


16. The times Williamson told lies to defend authoritarian governments in Latin America

Williamson is regularly on British and Russian media outlets defending governments like Maduro's in Latin America. One of the most jaw-dropping of such moments was in January this year, when Venezuelan starvation was so intense that thousands were fleeing the country daily, and Williamson said to the BBC that they were not "genuinely" starving.
Another lie Williamson told the BBC was that the poor voted for Maduro in big numbers in the last election.
Another was that Maduro is housing the poor.
And a final lie Williamson told on TV is that "none other than Jimmy Carter" endorsed Maduro's election.
FAKE NEWS

17. The bunch of times Williamson has promoted fake news websites

As one blogger puts it, "Williamson promoted pro-Corbyn media outlet Skwawkbox, who wrote about the ‘Jewish war on Corbyn’. IPSO, the press watchdog ruled they are officially a fake news outlet. As well as writing about antisemitic conspiracies, Skwawkbox were also accused of bullying MPs who attended the ‘enough is enough’ rally against antisemitism . Williamson calls Skwawkbox ‘superb’." He is also of course a regular with The Canary, which is at least as bad.

18. The time Williamson shared a fake Nelson Mandela quote


I said I wouldn't include things related to Israel-Palestine, but I thought this was both minor and telling. In 2017, a week after he called allegations of antisemitism in the party "proxy wars and bullshit", Williamson tweeted a fake Mandela quote, and then later deleted it. The quote itself - comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa - is not actually antisemitic. But why it's telling is that it shows the milieu where Williamson moves, a world where fake news and fake memes circulate. Williamson, who has flip-flopped from Blairism to Corbynism and embraces all sorts of cranky positions, lacks the political education or critical imagination to distinguish truth from fact or to recognise antisemitism.

As I've strayed on to Israel/Palestine, it's worth saying that, while Williamson's defenders say he is being attacked because he supports Palestine, Williamson is not recognised as a pro-Palestinian activist by most people who really are active in Palestine solidarity work.


I'll leave you with Williamson's endorsement by Nick Griffin, Nazi former leader of the British National Party. Obviously, you can't blame Williamson for this, but you have to ask why Williamson has become a poster boy for fascism. A Labour Party with Williamson in it, which Nick Griffin calls "a clean, radical party", is a party unbearable for Jews and anti-racists to be near. If you think Williamson should be in the Labour Party, that's what you are supporting.


Comments

Ghost Whistler said…
I appreciate the detail here and it has made me rethink my position.

I'm not sure I'd lump Rachael from Swindon (twitter) in with him as a conspiracy peddler. She seems a good sort, perhaps getting things wrong occasionally. WE all do.

However I have been led to believe that Red Roar isn't a genuine site; it's controlled by Guido Fawkes
Gerard O said…
I wish Assad would drop a barrel bomb on your house.
Anonymous said…
Excellent work