Jeremy Corbyn is under increasing pressure to expel an ally from the Labour Party after they were recorded claiming Jewish “Trump fanatics” are behind recent claims of anti-Semitism.
Peter Willsman, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), was heard telling a meeting of the party’s ruling body he would be “amazed” if anyone present had seen examples of anti-Semitism within Labour.
The emergence of the audio recording, obtained by the Jewish Chronicle, has prompted demands for Mr Willsman to be “summarily expelled” from Labour.
A senior Labour source confirmed to Sky News that Mr Corbyn was present at the meeting while Mr Willsman made his remarks about anti-Semitism.
His comments at the 17 July meeting were investigated by the party earlier this month and Mr Willsman escaped further action after making an apology.
The source added Mr Corbyn thought it was right that Mr Willsman apologised.
But the publication of the audio recording has increased scrutiny of Labour’s action against Mr Willsman.
Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, claimed now Mr Willsman’s “disgusting rant” against the Jewish community and rabbis had been made public, the NEC member should be “summarily expelled”.
Posting on Twitter, Ms van der Zyl queried how it had been “so easy to clear Willsman after his slurs against the Jewish community” but Labour MPs Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin are “still being put through the ringer”.
Both MPs are being investigated by Labour officials after recently confronting senior party figures about a controversial new anti-Semitism code of conduct.
Ms van der Zyl also asked of Mr Corbyn: “What form did his professed ‘militant opposition’ to anti-Semitism take when he heard it?”
Mr Willsman is seeking to retain a place on the NEC as part of the so-called “JC9” group of Corbyn-supporting candidates at upcoming elections.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added to the pressure on Mr Corbyn over Mr Willsman’s recorded comments.
Why has it been so easy to clear Willsman after his slurs against the Jewish community, but anti-racist MPs @MargaretHodge & @IanAustinMP are still being put through the ringer?
— Board of Deputies President (@BoDPres) July 31, 2018
She said: “This tirade did not happen in some stuffy room of a fringe gathering in the back of beyond, this happened at a meeting of the ruling body of a mainstream political party with its leader present.
“It is horrifying – not only for its content, but by the fact that the Labour leader and general secretary sat by, witnessed these disgusting, indefensible comments and said nothing.
“It is impossible not to recognise Mr Willsman’s contempt for the Jewish community, but even when it is staring him in the face, Mr Corbyn seems unphased.
“Our political leaders should be leading the charge against racism. To remain silent is complicit. This is unacceptable and terrifying.”
Labour MP Luciana Berger, who is the parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, told Sky News “anyone listening” to the audio of Mr Willsman’s comments would be “appalled”.
“Those comments were made in the presence of a number of other members of the NEC just two weeks ago, in the wake of all the furore going on about anti-Semitism,” she said.
“It does beggar belief and the question has to be asked, this was said in the presence of the leader of the Labour Party, where’s the action?”
Ms Berger called for Mr Willsman to again face a formal investigation, saying the closure of the previous probe into his comments was not “adequate” in the wake of the publication of the recording.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who is supportive of Mr Corbyn, and Matt Zarb Cousins, the Labour leader’s former press spokesman, have both called for Mr Willsman to quit the NEC.
In a report of the 17 July meeting authored by Mr Willsman for the Grassroots Labour website, the NEC member revealed Ms Formby led a discussion on anti-Semitism.
He wrote: “Everyone present vehemently hoped that the Jewish groups would respond positively to our desire to a thorough dialogue.
“If the groups declined to engage in any dialogue that would be very negative and unhelpful.
“To simply use the press and media as a megaphone to continue to make rather wild assertions that have no evidential basis is not the way forward.”
In response to Mr Willsman’s recorded comments, a Labour spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual cases.”