This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker
Pete Willsman is the victim of a well-timed sting – yet his own CLPD comrades will not stand in solidarity with him. Carla Roberts reports
On May 31, Labour Party general secretary Jennie Formby informed other members of the national executive committee that she had put Pete Willsman under “administrative suspension” after having “received a number of complaints, including from NEC members”, about his latest comments”.
Comrade Willsman, who has been serving on the NEC since 1981 (1994 was the only year he was not re-elected), was caught by the Israeli-American author, Tuvia Tenenbom, making a number of unguarded comments on the so-called ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ in the party. Unaware of being recorded, Willsman apparently boasted that he is “Peter. Red Pete. They call me Corbyn’s enforcer”. But that cannot actually be heard in the heavily edited clip that runs for 102 seconds on LBC radio’s website and forms – so far – the only evidence. Here is a full transcript of the clip:
The rich control the papers, the rich control everything else and the rich know he’s going to make them pay taxes [edited gap].
One of these things about anti-Semitism is they’re using that to whip people up – they use anything, any lies. It’s all total lies and they whip it up. [Tenenbom makes positive grunting noises.] I’ll tell you what and this is off the record: it is almost certain who is behind all of this anti-Semitism against Jeremy. Almost certainly it was the Israeli embassy. [Tenenbom encouragingly says, “Really?”] Yes, they caught somebody in the Labour Party it turns out was an agent in the embassy [edited gap].
The people in the Labour Party doing it, they are people who are linked – one of them works indirectly for the Israeli embassy. I wouldn’t want to be bothered to find out, but my guess would be that they’re the ones whipping it up all the time [edited gap].
In The Guardian not long ago we had 69 rabbis, obviously organised by the Israeli embassy, saying anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is widespread and severe. Is 70 out of 600,000 [members] really widespread and severe? Is it widespread and severe? [Tenenbom can be heard murmuring, “No”.] From here [Oxford] to London it is 70 kilometres and 600,000 kilometres is 14 times around the whole world. They’re saying from here to London is widespread and severe compared to 14 times around the whole world. That is the rubbish they’re coming out with.
And that is it. Clearly, nothing Willsman said here is either anti-Semitic or warrants suspension. Unaware that he was being recorded, he might otherwise have been a little more vague when it comes to a number of details. The 69 rabbis, for example, might well have been organised by the Board of Deputies (though there is little doubt that they also have close links to the embassy). Also, we are not quite sure who it is he means who worked “indirectly for the Israeli embassy”. He was probably referring to Ella Rose, who used to work there – pretty directly – as a public affairs officer, before becoming director of the Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated to the Labour Party.
Throughout the short clip, Willsman must obviously have referred to the fascinating documentary, The lobby, which has been wilfully ignored by the mainstream media. The documentary revealed the systematic efforts by the Israeli embassy to involve itself in the internal battles in the Labour Party. It also revealed the campaign by the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs to label opponents of Israel as anti-Semites. Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement have quite clearly been acting as the embassy’s ‘political arm in the Labour Party’. Ella Rose is shown in The lobby boasting about JLM’s relationship with Shai Masot: “We work with Shai, we know him very well.” Masot was the Israeli embassy spy forced out of his job (and the UK) after Al Jazeera exposed him plotting to “take down” various politicians.
Naturally, political interference via secret services, embassies, media outlets and many other avenues is widespread and commonplace (the reason we pay our taxes!). But the Israeli government’s campaign to topple Jeremy Corbyn has been particularly blatant and obvious. It is this campaign of interference that should be the subject of an overdue investigation rather than Pete Willsman. And this is what Jeremy Corbyn actually publicly demanded when The lobby was first aired in 2017.
But it is fair to say that the party has gone a bit quiet on the issue. We know why, of course: Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Corbyn and his advisors still seem to believe that they can appease the right, many of whom have close relationships with LFI and the JLM. How else do you explain the proposed appointment of Tony Blair’s buddy, Lord Charlie Falconer, to head up yet another party investigation into anti-Semitism? Luckily for Corbyn, Falconer declined. A few days ago he explained to BBC Radio 4 about how Willsman had “attacked the Jewish embassy”. Is he really suggesting that this is the embassy for all Jews? What a suicidal appointment that would have been!
Michael Moore of the Zionist right
The carefully timed and choreographed ‘expose’ of Willsman should prove to Corbyn once and for all how futile is his ongoing campaign to try and appease the right. Willsman was recorded in January, but Tenenbom (and LBC radio) waited almost six months to publish the audio recording – no doubt so that it could coincide nicely with the pressure building up over a second Brexit referendum, the bad EU election results, the investigation into ‘Labour anti-Semitism’ by the Equality Commission (see below) and the attacks on Labour’s Peterborough by-election candidate, Lisa Forbes. The aim is clear: the Labour right – in cahoots with much of the establishment and the media – want to weaken and isolate Jeremy Corbyn in order to get rid of him. Willsman is – like so many others – nothing but collateral damage.
Contrary to the picture painted in the mainstream media of Tuvia Tenenbom as some kind of respectable and neutral ‘journalist’ who just happened to run into Willsman in a hotel bar (and whose sound engineer just happened to leave a microphone switched on and set to ‘record’), this has more than the whiff of a sting operation about it. Tenenbom, clearly a convinced Zionist, has published a number of books in which he uses exactly this kind of method: he takes on a different persona and secretly films and records people, leading them on and guiding them into making exactly the kind of unguarded comments he was looking for – all in order to prove how anti-Semitism is rife in Germany, Palestine, the USA, etc. He is like a Michael Moore of the Zionist right – but on a much lower level.
Tenenbom told LBC radio: “He [Pete Willsman] is a nice guy, he has a great sense of humour, he’s knowledgeable. But like Jeremy Corbyn – I met Jeremy and he’s also a nice guy, very fatherly – but they suffer from a disease of really hating the Jews.” Tenenbom has also given lectures, in which he explains why “the suffering of Palestinian people is bullshit” (since you ask, he knows that because he got hold of a nicely produced business card by a Palestinian businessman and visited Palestinian shopping malls that sell some luxury goods).
Clearly, this is a man on a mission. Pete Willsman would have done well to at least quickly Google the guy before he sat down with him for a cup of coffee, talking about one of the most sensitive issues in today’s political discourse. Especially as he was once before the victim: in July 2018, an unnamed fellow member of the NEC secretly recorded Willsman when he angrily criticised all those who were responsible for so many false allegations of anti-Semitism in the party – and then outrageously passed the audio to the press. Clearly, that member should have been investigated for bringing the party into disrepute, not Willsman for stating the plain truth.
That episode last year also exposed how far Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum, has moved to the right. Rather than defend his comrade of over 30 years, he dropped him from the slate of recommended candidates for election to the NEC. The fact that comrade Willsman was re-elected nevertheless shows both his popularity and the increasing disillusionment with Momentum among party members. It has been worse than useless in fighting the witch-hunt in the Labour Party – in fact it has been complicit.
Just this week, Lansman was yet again busy conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, when he celebrated the dismissal of George Galloway by Talkradio: “Talkradio is right to sack George Galloway for what he said. Anti-Semitism must be rooted out and rejected by all socialists, alongside all other forms of racism and hate speech.”
We are no fans of Galloway, especially since his idiotic support for the xenophobe and chauvinist, Nigel Farage, and his rightwing Brexit Party. But was his tweet really anti-Semitic? While celebrating Liverpool’s win over Tottenham Hotspurs in the Champions League final, he wrote that there would be “no Israel flags on the cup”. Galloway was referencing the fact that some Spurs fans – who famously identify themselves as the “Yid army” – do indeed carry flags with the blue and white Israeli national emblem on them. Galloway’s tweet exaggerated the scale of the pro-Israel sentiment among Spurs fans – but, in any case, he was referring to Israel, not Jews. With such tweets, Lansman is helping to feed the anti-Corbyn witch-hunt.
As an aside, “Momentum’s most engaged and active members” have just received Lansman’s proposals to “democratise the organisation” (funnily enough, this includes at least one person who has been suspended from Momentum for the last six months, as well as people who assure us that they have not paid their membership fees for the last two years). So exciting times: will we finally see a democratic conference, where members can vote to get rid of Lansman as the owner, leader and all-round puppet-master of the group? Or perhaps we might be given a fair chance to democratically decide a constitution and get rid of the one that Lansman imposed after his coup of January 10 2017? Or, you know, maybe members might be given some say on the kind of campaigns and political priorities we want Momentum to advance? Which surely would be way to the left of what Lansman is doing.
Of course not. Lansman is suggesting three things: (1) to increase the number of regions from three to five; (2) increase the number of directly ‘elected’ people on the leading body from 12 to 20; and (3), our favourite proposal, get rid of the annual ‘elections’ and instead only bother with them every two years. Because, you see, “a relatively high level of resources are diverted into running elections rather than other activities.” That is a classic: increase democracy by decreasing elections. Brilliant.
This last proposal actually seems to be the main reason for the ‘consultation’ (which lasts a staggering seven days, giving the few remaining Momentum groups no time to discuss them). Proposal 1 and 2 are obviously bullshit and will do nothing to democratise anything, but it seems that the annual charade of online elections (where isolated members are asked to choose between candidates of which they know very little) seems to be too burdensome for our Jon. So this is not a proposal to democratise Momentum, but, on the contrary, to make it even less accountable.
A Zionist himself, Lansman has been partly to blame for the scale of the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign in the Labour Party. It is an outrage that Labour members are being suspended, investigated and expelled for stating the truth: that the so-called anti-Semitism crisis in the Labour Party has been cynically manufactured and carefully directed. Meanwhile, anti-Corbyn MPs, such as Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman and Tom Watson, insult, disrupt, make bogus accusations and work hand in glove with the capitalist media – with no repercussions. “Those making false charges ought to face disciplinary action and should be held accountable for their actions” – as Labour Against the Witchhunt’s recent statement and model motion on Willsman correctly declares (see page 11).”
However, the opposite is happening. The expulsion of the Blairite plotter, Alistair Campbell, is now being “reviewed” – we fear that his reinstatement is imminent. And that despite the fact that he has openly boasted about voting for the Liberal Democrats, no doubt in order to provoke an action by the party and, of course, the subsequent counter-reaction by Tom Watson et al, who claim to be outraged by this application of Labour’s rules. No such leniency is applied when it comes to the auto-expulsion of (leftwing) members who have merely wished candidates in other parties “good luck”. The double standards applied here are staggering and underline which way the scales in the civil war are still tilting.
Similarly, the Labour Party should call out the investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for what it is: part of the latest move against Corbyn. The complaints were lodged by the Jewish Labour Movement and the so-called Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Clearly these two organisations have no interest in fighting racism at all: their only purpose is to get rid of a certain Jeremy Corbyn and they have actively plotted against him from day one. The JLM was refounded in 2015 specifically to campaign against Corbyn and Tony Greenstein has described how the CAA has campaigned almost exclusively against Corbyn rather than anti-Semitism or racism.
The EHRC will now investigate “whether the party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”. But, if there has been any unlawful discrimination by Labour against Jewish people, surely it has been against Jewish anti-Zionists. Many of them, as well as black members, are involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights, which explains the disproportionate number of expulsions and suspensions of black and Jewish comrades.
In this context, we are somewhat puzzled by the strategy proposed by a number of black activists, who think that Labour Party members should now swamp the EHRC with examples of anti-black racism. Clearly, that would only give the witch-hunters even more ammunition and lead to the predictable result that the party – and specifically Corbyn – will not just be found guilty of anti-Semitism, but of other forms of racism too. That is not exactly a winning strategy, comrades.
At the heart of the latest move is the news that the overdue trigger ballots – by which sitting Labour MPs are subjected to a possible reselection ballot of members – might finally be implemented after all. We have to say, we remain a little sceptical. Of course, as a reform agreed at last year’s Labour Party conference, it should be implemented. After all, it was only ever a compromise cobbled together with the unions to hold off the far more democratic proposal to re-establish the mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates (aka open selection), which would otherwise have gone through.
Still, even this slight reform represents a serious danger to many careerist MPs, who quite rightly fear that the local membership might give them the axe, given half a chance. In particular it is the separation of the trigger ballot into two separate votes that could see sitting MPs being democratically challenged for the first time since 1990. Then, Neil Kinnock abolished mandatory reselection and instead introduced the trigger ballot system, where a total of 33% of all Labour Party branches and affiliated organisations (each branch and affiliate having one vote) had to oppose the sitting MP in order to spark a full selection process between different candidates. Democrat that he is, Tony Blair increased the threshold to 50%.
It is now back at 33%, but, crucially, a full selection process starts when either 33% of a Constituency Labour Party’s branches or 33% of its affiliates say ‘no’ to the sitting MP. This is hugely important, as trade unions and other affiliated organisations have in the past often played a negative role, using their votes to side with the right in holding off more leftwing challengers supported by the CLP’s branches.
But, unless the NEC publishes a timetable and guidelines on how to launch such trigger ballots, nothing can happen. In January, Jennie Formby was commissioned by the NEC to urgently produce such documents – but then Chukka Umunna and his friends split from the party and the leadership got cold feet. “In an attempt to stop further defections, Labour could delay the start of re-election battles,” reported The Guardian in February. It added: “Labour is set to put back the start of the formal MP selection process … which could have led to vast numbers of MPs facing deselection.”
Perhaps it was the hilarious news that Change UK was about to split itself into oblivion that led to the latest reports about the overdue implementation of the trigger ballots being imminent. As we said, while we would obviously welcome such a move, we remain sceptical. After all, it would require Jeremy Corbyn and his allies to finally come out fighting and stop their campaign of appeasing those rightwingers who would probably get the chop by the local membership. And we have yet to see any evidence of that.
Unfortunately, the same goes for Peter Willsman’s own organisation, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. The CLPD is characterised by its uncritical support for (or, more precisely, total submission to the thinking of) Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, the first sentence of the lead motion to its recent AGM (written, we believe, by Willsman) read, rather creepily: “Full support to the party leader at all times”. That also just about sums up its current attitude to the witch-hunt against its secretary, Pete Willsman: Because Jeremy Corbyn remains tight-lipped and does not come out in support of Willsman, neither does the CLPD.
In fact, the organisation and its leader have been very quiet over the whole witch-hunt. Had it not been for the two secret recordings of Willsman, we would not actually have known where exactly he stands on the issue of the smear campaign. Shortly after Chris Williamson’s suspension, the CLPD published a short, mealy-mouthed defence of the MP – but also distributed the so-called instruction that allegedly bans branches and CLPs from discussing any motions on ongoing disciplinary cases. As Labour Against the Witchhunt has usefully pointed out, there is in fact “no ban” on such motions. “True, they are categorised as “not competent business” (which means they will not be discussed by the NEC), but it is always up to the members of any meeting to decide what they want to discuss.
And every single statement, every public resolution will add to the pressure to get our comrades reinstated – whether the NEC discusses them or not.
However, the CLPD pretends nothing has happened. We are assured that “of course” CLPD members stand in solidarity with Pete. But no public statement has gone out, explaining how their comrade was the victim of a sting, no information has been sent to members – nothing. Unsurprisingly though, behind the scenes all hell has broken loose. We hear that Willsman was urged by other officers to resign as CLPD secretary, though that does not actually seem necessary, as the ridiculous rules of the organisation only allow full Labour members to be members. With his suspension from the party, he was automatically suspended by the CLPD. The chickens have come home to roost …
He was swiftly replaced by Barry Gray and Jake Rubin, with the latter being particularly keen to distance the organisation from Willsman. We have been forwarded an email of Rubin’s, where he argues: “Pete should apologise for his comments and I won’t be advising that CLPD defend them. It is not true that the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is solely the product of Israel.”
Pete Willsman did not actually say that. Remember, on the tape we can only hear a version of his comments that was heavily and purposefully edited. For example, at one point Willsman quite clearly states he is talking about “all of this anti-Semitism against Jeremy”, for which he quite correctly blames “the Israeli embassy” (ie, the Israeli government).
So we are down to this: “One of these things about anti-Semitism is they’re using that to whip people up – they use anything, any lies. It’s all total lies and they whip it up.” You could try and take that apart, bit by bit, to try and work out what exactly he means by “it’s all total lies”. But remember, this is not somebody giving a well-prepared speech for an audience, but somebody speaking out over a cup of coffee with a person pretending to be sympathetic.
But his own comrades are not giving him the benefit of the doubt. With even his leading figures in the CLPD twisting his words and throwing him to the wolves, what chance does Willsman have of a fair trial in front of the party’s skewed disciplinary body?
This is particularly shameful, as comrade Willsman has been a leading figure in the CLPD for close to 50 years and his position on the NEC has kept the group going for much of this time. The CLPD is, shall we say, a little on the inert side – and has, funnily enough, become increasingly so since the election of a certain Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Before that it occasionally posed left, but, as soon as Corbyn was elected, it dropped its key demand for mandatory reselection and has been shadowing his campaign of appeasement.
Apart from proposing a few left-leaning motions to annual conference and publishing the useful (though rather tame) daily voting guide, ‘Yellow pages’, at conference itself, the organisation does very, very little. Its role in the Grassroots Centre Left Alliance (GCLA), which for the last 30 or so years has been recommending soft-left candidates for various internal elections, is diminishing by the day. This latest failure of the CLPD to stand in public solidarity with its leading member will only increase the speed with which the organisation heads towards implosion. That would be a loss.