Chris Williamson forced to apologise for defending musician accused of anti-Semitism
A controversial Labour MP has been forced to apologise after giving his support to a musician accused of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Chris Williamson signed and shared an online petition protesting at Islington Council's decision to ban Gilad Atzmon from performing at a concert in the north London borough on Friday evening.
That followed a complaint by a Jewish member of the local community over Mr Atzmon's previous comments on Jews and Israel.
The Derby North MP - who has previously described accusations of anti-Semitism within Labour as "a dirty lowdown trick" - quickly deleted a tweet linking to the 'Hands Off Gilad Atzmon' campaign.
Mr Williamson later tweeted an apology, insisting he had not been aware of Mr Atzmon's views on Israel and Jewish people.
"Earlier today I tweeted a petition about an Islington Council ban against the Blockheads performing with their chosen line up," Mr Williamson said. "The council has blocked jazz musician Gilad Atzmon from playing with the group.
"Since then I've learned that Atzmon, a former Israeli soldier, is not confined to the jazz world. I am told that in various blogs and in speeches he has adopted antisemitic language. I wasn't aware of this until after I tweeted the petition.
"As soon as I was informed, I deleted the tweet. I've always condemned all forms of racism, including antisemitism, and strongly disassociate myself from Atzmon's antisemitic views. I therefore apologise for tweeting this petition and any distress or offence it may have caused."
Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, told PoliticsHome: "Sadly this is the latest in a long line of despicable actions and comments by Chris Williamson. Unfortunately, an apology alone cannot and will not absolve him from the hurt he has repeatedly caused to the Jewish community.
"The fact that he continues to hold the Labour whip tells you everything you need to know about Corbyn's Labour Party in 2018."
The chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, Ivor Caplin, said in a statement: “Gilad Atzmon is an anti-Semite. Chris Williamson is a Jew baiter. Supporting Atzmon is baiting Jews.
“And Chris Williamson has been baiting Jews in the party for too long unchecked. No more ifs or buts.
“We expect Chris Williamson to be suspended from the Labour Party today. We await to hear from Jennie Formby.”
Labour MP Wes Streeting, who had criticised Mr Williamson before he issued his apology, tweeted: "Chris has now apologised, as he should. Presumably it was just a love of jazz that led him to sign and share a petition defending someone with antisemitic form - apparently without even checking why the Council (a LABOUR Council) took the step of banning him in the first place."
Anti-Racist group Hope Not Hate have described Mr Atzmon as "an anti-Semite who has promoted the works of Holocaust deniers", while the Community Security Trust said his book 'The Wandering Who' was "quite probably the most anti-Semitic book published in this country in recent years".
A Labour party spokesperson said: "Gilad Atzmon is a vile antisemite. Chris Williamson has said he was not aware of Atzmon‘s appalling views and rightly apologised for his tweet."