Labour councillor sparks anger with ‘Jewess’ slur

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Labour councillor sparks anger with ‘Jewess’ slur

Coventry City Councillor Christine Thomas - an ally of local MP Zarah Sultana - posted the messages in a local party WhatsApp group

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Christine Thomas is councillor for Coventry City Council (Image: Jewish News/CCC)
Christine Thomas is councillor for Coventry City Council (Image: Jewish News/CCC)

A local councillor ally of Labour MP Zarah Sultana has sparked anger over her use of the offensive word “Jewess” in a local party WhatsApp group.

Coventry City Council’s Christine Thomas, elected to represent the Binley and Willenhall ward for Labour, branded another female activist a “Jewess” as she detailed a conversation they had.

Thomas also informed the Whatsapp group that the female activist, who was not named, believed that allegations of antisemitism were “a lot of crap set up to discredit JC (Jeremy Corbyn)”.

Jewish News understands that Cllr Thomas’s message has infuriated local Labour members, who have reported the content to the party’s compliance unit for investigation.

Labour confirmed they were assessing a complaint about the WhatsApp post on Friday.

One party member said:”Cllr Thomas clearly seems to be supporting the view that the existence of widespread antisemitism in the party under the previous leader was just a smear.

“As for her use of the word ‘Jewess’, just why does she think it’s OK to use such an obviously offensive term?”

Leaked to Jewish News, the Whatsapp messages show that Thomas initially wrote of a conversation she had with “a jewels conference.”  But she then amended the message and wrote instead “Jewess.”

The Macmillan Dictionary states that “Jewess” is an old-fashioned word for a Jewish woman. But adds:”This word is now considered offensive.”

In a message posted in the Labour Together Coventry South group, which was set up by allies of local MP Sultana, Thomas responded to another activist who claimed voters “didn’t trust” Jeremy Corbyn because of allegations around antisemitism, and because of “MSM stuff” (mainstream media).

Thomas responded by writing:”I had avry (a very) interesting encounter with a jewels at conference. She was furious.

“She said it was a lot of crap set up to discredit JC (Jeremy Corbyn). She even said so from the platform.

“Saying that the Jewish Labour group did not speak for her.”
Thomas then added there were Jewish members in the local Coventry South party and that they had “never said anything about antisemitic behaviour.”

Conversation in the Labour Together Coventry South WhatsApp group

Cllr Thomas, who chairs  Coventry Council’s Licensing and Regulatory Board, and sits on the Education and Children’s Services Scrutiny committee, was openly endorsed by MP Sultana ahead of the local elections last May.

Sultana said Thomas had been for the previous four years a councillor who was “rooted in their community” and standing up for local people on the city council.

She added:”Christine has been working hard to support the most vulnerable in Binley and Willenhall throughout the pandemic” unlike the “Tories in Westminster” and “their super-rich friends.”

Thomas said she was “very humbled to have the endorsement of my Member of Parliament” ahead of the local election.

Zarah Sultana endorses Cllr Thomas in April 2021

The Coventry South MP has this week been promoting the launch of a a new left-wing movement attempting to mobile anger around the government’s failure to deal with the cost-of-living crisis.

She appeared to openly criticise Labour leader Keir Starmer in a speech delivered at an event held by the Enough Is Enough group, claiming he needed to make a choice between “bosses or workers.”

Sultana, who was controversially selected under Corbyn’s leadership to be the Coventry South parliamentary candidate in 2019 has previously apologised for social media posts including one stating she would “celebrate” the deaths of world leaders, including Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Coventry South MP is facing a trigger ballot in local party over the next few weeks in which local members decided whether or not she should face a selection process to stand as candidate at the next general election.

Jewish News has contacted Cllr Thomas, MP Sultana for comment over the WhatsApp post.

Cllr Thomas told Jewish News:” My comments were the remarks made to me by a lady of the Jewish faith several years ago.

“Indeed the lady spoke from the platform with great passion. ”

She apologised for using the word “Jewess” stating:”The term used to describe a lady who follows the Jewish faith that I used is apparently regarded as a slur.

“I was not aware of that fact and I can assure you no such insult or slur is intended. Therefore if it has offended anybody I apologise for my ignorance in using an outdated term which is now frowned upon.”

MP Sultana told Jewish News:” “Antisemitism is an evil that blights our society, existing across the political spectrum including in the Labour Party. That shouldn’t be denied by anyone and offensive terms for ethnic minorities have absolutely no place in our movement.

“Having faced racism my whole life, that’s something I am acutely aware of. So it is right that Councillor Thomas has apologised.

“I will continue to speak out against antisemitism and stand in solidarity with Jewish people in Coventry and across the country in the fight to defeat this hatred.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said:”The Labour Party takes all complaints seriously. They are assessed in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate action is taken.”

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