Diane Abbott suspended as Labour MP over claim Jews don’t face racism ‘all their lives’

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Diane Abbott suspended as Labour MP over claim Jews don’t face racism ‘all their lives’

The MP claims in letter, published by The Observer, that unlike the racism faced by black people, 'Jewish, Irish and traveller communities' have experienced 'prejudice'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Diane Abbott. (Photo credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
Diane Abbott. (Photo credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

Labour MP Diane Abbott has had the whip suspended over a letter she wrote to a newspaper suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to racism “all their lives”.

In a letter, published by The Observer newspaper, she claimed Jewish, Irish and traveller communities have experienced “prejudice”, but added: “This is similar to racism, and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.”

Her letter added: “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism.”

It provoked anger on social media on Sunday, and Abbott, former shadow home secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, later tweeted an apology claiming the letter published in The Observer had been an “initial draft” sent by mistake.

The Board of Deputies confirmed they had written to Keir Starmer over Abbott’s letter to the Observer which they said “was disgraceful and her apology is entirely unconvincing.”

The Board added:”We have written to Keir Starmer expressing our deep concern and asking for the whip to be removed.”

The Labour Party responded swiftly by removing the whip, forcing Abbott to sit as an independent in the Commons, while the investigation takes place.

A Labour spokesperson said the party “completely condemns these comments”, calling them “deeply offensive and wrong”. They added that the chief whip had suspended the whip from Abbott, meaning she will sit as an independent MP “pending an investigation”.

Among those expressing their outrage at the letter was Tory cabinet minister Grant Shapps, who is Jewish himself, who said: “Once again, Jewish people have to wake up and see a Labour MP casually spouting hateful antisemitism.”

Comedian David Baddiel tweeted: “And in the middle of the 20th Century 6 million Jews were murdered after being categorised as an inferior race. Not sure that’s prejudice.”

Jewish Labour Movement parliamentary chair Dame Margaret Hodge tweeted:”Diane Abbott’s letter was deeply offensive and deeply depressing.

“Keir Starmer’s response is right. No excuses. No delays. The comments will be investigated and she has been immediately suspended.”

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the letter was “deeply offensive” and “deeply wrong”.

In her apology Abbott added:”I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them.

“The errors arose in an initial draft being sent. But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.”

She continued: “Racism takes many forms, and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, Travellers and many others. Once again, I would like to apologise publicly for the remarks and any distress caused as a result of them.”

The Labour left-winger had been responding to a column by Tomiwa Owolade which had stated that that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from racism.

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington wrote in her letter: “In pre-civil rights American, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus. In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote.

She added: “And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”

Responding to Abbott’s comments Karen Pollock, the Holocaust Educational Trust’s chief executive, wrote:”There are those who deem antisemitism as a ‘lesser’ form of racism, a somehow less embedded or extreme form of hatred.

“BUT anyone even superficially familiar with what white supremacists think and say, will know that they regard Jews as racially inferior – regardless of the colour of their skin.

“The fact is that acknowledging the long history of hatred and persecution of Jews including the systematic state sponsored annihilation of 6 million during the Holocaust – does not detract from the very real issues faced by other minority groups.

“Hitler and the Nazis regarded Jews as a race that was subhuman and to be eradicated from the face of the earth.

“Ignoring the existence and impact of anti Jewish racism harms Jews, diminishes our experience, and distorts the truth.

“It is so important that those of us from minority groups unite against the haters and call it out together.”

Tory peer Lord Wolfson also condemned Abbott’s comments saying: “Minimising anti-Jewish racism as mere ‘prejudice’ is shameful from someone who takes the Labour whip.”

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