By Erica Morris - Thursday 26th February 2009
Community leaders last night insisted that the UK must "not be a safe haven" for Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson after he flew to London following his expulsion from Argentina.
In a decision praised by Jewish leaders around the world, the Argentinian authorities last Thursday gave the British-born bishop 10 days to leave the country where he has lived since 2003 of his own accord, or face being thrown out.
Although the country's interior ministry cited Williamson's failure to declare on immigration forms his true job as director of a seminary from which he was recently sacked, government officials said the expulsion was influenced by the Shoah-denying bishop's now-notorious statements last month that there were no gas chambers used in Nazi concentration camps and that only 300,000 Jews died in the Holocaust.
With four days still to go before the government deadline, Williamson left Buenos Aires on Tuesday, escorted to a British Airways plane by a team of police officers. He landed in England to a media scrum but gave no comment as to his immediate plans before being driven away in a Land Rover.
Lord Janner, president of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: "It would be much better if Williamson was not here as I consider his views to be anti-Semitic, extremely offensive, and insulting to the millions who witnessed and suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. Sadly, as a British citizen, he cannot be prevented."
Describing Williamson as a "disgrace to Britain", Ilford North MP Lee Scott reiterated calls for the bishop to racant his views.
"He's a British citizen, so if he has to go somewhere, it stands to reason he would come here," he said. "But I find the remarks he has made in the past of denying the Holocaust abhorrent. He should recant immediately for the sake of the six million Jews who died. He must apologise as soon as possible."
In an opinion piece for this week's Jewish News, Stephen Smith, director of the Holocaust Centre, said the Argentinian government had done "the right thing" in expelling Williamson and publicly denouncing his views. But he said: "It is unconscionable that Britain should be so active in taking the lead on tackling antisemitism, yet become an island of refuge for international Holocaust deniers. There should be no safe haven here for people like him who peddle their views through Holocaust denial here."
Williamson had made the controversial remarks in an interview aired on Swedish television only days before the pope lifted an excommunication placed on the bishop in 1988, a decision that has drawn mass criticism for the pontiff. And while the pope has since demanded that the 69-year-old racant his views if he ever wished to serve as a cleric of the church again, Williamson has yet to comply.
In announcing its decision last week, the Argentinian interior ministry said Williamson's comments on the Shoah "profoundly insult Argentine society, the Jewish community and all of humanity by denying an historic truth".
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said: "This decision is commendable, even more so because the government of Argentina makes it crystal clear that Holocaust deniers are not welcome in the country. Sadly, other countries and governments are much less inclined to crack down on any attempts to denigrate the victims of the Shoah. For this courageous decision, President Cristina Fernández de
Kirchner and her administration once again deserve praise."
Bishop Williamson denies prejudice against Jews and is quoted on the BBC website as saying: "My definition of anti-Semitism is to be against every single Jew purely because he's a Jew. That's not at all my case. I once had a Jewish rabbi come and speak to seminarians. Does that sound to you like anti-Semitism?".