Diane Abbott's long history of antisemitism controversies

This week's scandal is hardly the first for the longstanding Hackney MP


BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott addresses delegates in the main hall of the Brighton Centre on the second day of the Labour Party conference on September 22, 2019 in Brighton, England. Labour return to Brighton for the 2019 conference against a backdrop of political turmoil over Brexit. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Hackney MP Diane Abbott, who has lost the Labour whip after claiming that Jews and Roma do not face racism, has a long history of controversial remarks on the subject of antisemitism.

For many years a member of the party’s hard-left Socialist Campaign Group, Abbott consistently rejected criticisms of her fellow group member and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who presided over the party’s antisemitism crisis.

In May 2016 – a year after Corbyn was elected party leader - she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that to suggest Labour had a problem with Jew-hate was “a smear against ordinary party members”.

Two years later she said Corbyn was “the most anti-racist leader in our history” and that those who claimed the party had become “institutionally racist” were not fighting racism but “fighting Corbyn”.

Such arguments were to become the stock in trade of Corbyn’s Labour defenders, echoed by groups such as the now-banned Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW).

In March 2019, a few months before Corbyn went down to a crushing electoral defeat, Abbott allowed a motion to pass at a meeting of her Constituency Labour Party that was said to have left Jewish members in tears. It condemned the “acceptance” of the notion that Labour was institutionally antisemitic, saying this was a bogus idea fabricated by the media and the Labour right.

During the first pandemic lockdown in April 2020, shortly after Starmer became leader, Abbott spoke at the inaugural online Zoom meeting of LAW’s predecessor, a group called Don’t Leave, Organise.

This brought her together with hard-left activists who had been expelled from Labour for antisemitism, including Tony Greenstein – who had abused fellow party members as “Zios” - and former hard left faction Momentum deputy chief Jackie Walker.

Abbott made a speech about a then recently-leaked internal report on the party’s handling of antisemitism. The JC reported that in this she claimed the report showed “the right wing” of the party would “rather lose a general election than see it under genuine left-wing leadership”, and blamed it for the party’s disastrous defeat in the 2019 election. Other speakers at the event claimed antisemitism had been “weaponised” to undermine Corbyn.

Afterwards, the Board of Deputies called for Abbott to be suspended. However, Starmer took no further action other than to issue a reprimand.

In December 2020, she appeared at a rally protesting against the withdrawal of the Labour whip from Corbyn over his attempt to minimise the conclusions of the damning Equality and Human Rights Commission report on Labour antisemitism, which said the party had acted unlawfully. Abbott was pictured next to a banner stating “Jeremy is the Beating Heart of Labour”.

In 2021, Abbott was among 18 Labour MPs and five peers who signed a statement demanding the reinstatement of filmmaker Ken Loach, once the director of a play, Perdition, that claimed Zionists collaborated with the Nazis. The statement said Loach – listed on LAW’s website as a “sponsor” – was an “outstanding socialist”.

There were other apparent missteps, unconnected to her defence of Labour under Corbyn.

In 2018, Abbott posted a fake image online that showed an Israeli fighter jet supposedly bombing Tehran, to illustrate a tweet saying Parliament should have been allowed to vote before allowing the RAF to join a bombing raid on Syria. The image had been lifted from an aviation blog six years earlier – but despite condemnation from MPs and the Board of Deputies, Abbott failed to explain why she had made use of it.

The same year she suggested on the BBC’s Question Time that members of the large Charedi community in her constituency were prone to becoming victims of hate crimes because they wore a “costume”. However, local Charedi Rabbi Avraham Pinter defended her, saying his community appreciated her efforts to defend it.

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