OPINION: Diane Abbott saga brings the bad old days back into view

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OPINION: Diane Abbott saga brings the bad old days back into view

Diane Abbott says Jews were not forced to sit at the back of the bus, but casually forgets they weren’t even allowed on public transport in Germany, writes Joshua Rom

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

TWO words. Jeremy Corbyn. Working mainly in showbiz and royal journalism, I never thought I would be writing about him again.

In theory I should not be and I am saddened that whilst I should be focusing my efforts on the sad passing of Strictly legend Len Goodman or preparations for the upcoming Coronation coverage, I am once again taking to my keyboard to write about yet another issue of anti-Semitism in the media.

However, with the recent Diane Abbott “draft” that was sent into the Observer, I felt compelled and four words kept ringing in my mind like a constant washing machine: here we go again.

Joshua Rom

When I saw Diane Abbott’s letter to the Observer, I was deeply saddened yes, but I’m afraid I was far from shocked. Yes those words were shocking and to claim that Jewish and traveller people have never felt racism is a fact that is plain wrong.

Six million Jews were murdered for simply being Jewish. She said that Jews were not forced to sit at the back of the bus, whilst casually forgetting that they weren’t even allowed to take public transport in Germany and Nazi occupied countries.

There is a list as long as the M1 for the legislature of what Jewish people were barred from doing, including riding bikes, going to public schools and universities and working on legal matters. Not to mention the places and spaces that Jewish people were barred from such as the civil service, health centres, sports clubs, theatres and cinemas.  You name it, Jewish people were banned from it.

But back to Corbyn who continues to fight against the fact that he’s not allowed to stand as a Labour MP at the next General Election. His allies have labelled this decision as “undemocratic.” They dismiss the allegations of enabling anti-Semitism, as how could someone who is SO tolerant as Corbyn, a campaigner for all minorities, be antisemitic?

BBC London News presenter leads bulletin with JVL statement on Diane Abbott

Well, as his biggest ally and supporter shows, the proof is in the pudding. Although in her apology she excused the contents by claiming it was a draft, the fact of the matter is that it was still written down.

She might as well have just written the following words, “Jews, Irish and Travellers do not count.”

The Momentum movement claims nothing but inclusivity and tolerance, citing other completely valid forms of discrimination to fight against, further citing historic discrimination of those communities, yet they are willing to forget one of the biggest genocides in the history of humanity. It goes to show what many have known for ages, that the movement views discrimination almost like a hierarchy of victimhood where some forms of racism are worse than others.

I remember in 2016, when I was a budding student, active in student media and nearing the end of my undergrad. I watched the scenes at the NUS conference unfold where students spoke against a motion for commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. The reason? The genocide wasn’t “inclusive” of other mass genocides around the world, and we should have a day to commemorate all genocides.

Whilst yes in theory this is a good idea, it reinforces the idea that Jewish voices and commemoration of Jewish issues shouldn’t really count in the wider scheme of things and that we maybe a minority in principle but not in fact.

That very same day I was subject to hearing an anti-Semitic slur directed at the Jewish Society for simply booking the football pitch, I was also later called “over-dramatic” for storming out of that room. This was a time when there was the election for the national president who represented the entire student population of the UK. The winning candidate claimed that The University of Birmingham was a “Zionist outpost.” At the time, I like many others, felt my voice invalidated.

However, seven years on, the very same seems to be done today and similar feelings have come rushing back. On one of today’s local BBC London breakfast bulletin, the first headline consisted of comments by the organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour.

Also known as a Corbyn-allying, fringe, anti-Zionist movement, not even directly affiliated with the Labour Party that also does not even accept the IRHC definition for antisemitism.

Predictably, they condemned Diane Abbott’s suspension. Thoughts of Homer Simpson screaming DOH! came to mind. I would assume or at least hope that any Jewish producer would have seen that story and raised the obvious red flags as to why it shouldn’t even be broadcast by OFCOM standards, let alone be the top story. Although it would be interesting to see if there even was a Jewish producer or reporter working on that programme.

I then flicked on by accident to my former employer GB News to discover that whilst they had plenty of commentators who were Jewish commentating on this scandal, I was reminded by the sad fact that for a time, I was the only Jewish member of their on-screen talent roster.

I won’t go into details but, put it this way: I am not optimistic this will change anytime in the near future.

A former colleague at a separate organisation I previously worked for claimed that Jews were already represented enough on-screen simply because Claudia Winkleman was part of the hosting team on Strictly Come Dancing and Vanessa Feltz was on This Morning.

Now when this colleague said those comments, I will say they sounded different than how it looks written, and looking back I am sure they meant no harm.

However, also looking back at the time, including my knowledge of attitudes within the wider media landscape, I felt like there was an implication, and that was there was no need for more Jewish representation on screen.

While understandably there is a massive push for diversity on-screen, and absolutely rightly so, I do not feel like that same opportunity is being geared towards Jewish people. It’s feels like the complete opposite, that Jewish people aren’t really seen as a ‘proper’ minority, simply because our skin colour maybe the same as others in the country.

Even last night on Piers Morgan Uncensored on talkTV, Chris Williamson (former Labour MP for Derby North) exclaimed: “She [Diane Abbott] was merely stating a fact, the truth is, Jewish people don’t experience racism by and large.”

I would challenge Chris how he would feel to be told to “get in the oven” at school.

I would ask Chris how he would feel seeing Palestinian activists shout for the rape of his sister or daughter over a megaphone whilst driving up the Finchley Road.

Yet when he was challenged we heard all the usual claims about conflation with anti-Semitism and Zionism and about specific isolated incidents that would compliment his point of view. Once again, we heard him hark back to apartheid and how Jewish people didn’t suffer like those who were forced sat in the back of a bus. Yes, because being forced into cattle trucks for the fact that they were not part of a ‘master race’ is not proper suffering.

We are seeing yet another member of parliament disregarding or dismissing the concerns of Jewish people and the racism they faced. Because anti-semitism IS racism.

And even when there is an issue that comes to the forefront in relation to the Jewish community, sometimes it doesn’t feel like we are properly listened too, and by chance if we are, it doesn’t feel like they count.

  • Josh Rom is a national award winning London based broadcaster and journalist
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