Diane Abbott to meet leading Hackney rabbi to heal rifts after Observer letter

The longstanding MP requested the meeting with Herschel Gluck in the wake of outrage over her remarks


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)

Diane Abbott has requested a meeting with a prominent rabbi in her constituency in an attempt to heal rifts in the wake of her "antisemitic" letter to the Observer, the JC has learnt.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, who has known the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP for over three decades, first met her when she visited him before standing for the seat in 1987.

Abbott called the strictly-Orthodox rabbi on Monday, a day after her letter generated widespread outrage, and asked if they could meet later this week.

Gluck told the JC he was “shocked” by the veteran anti-racism campaigner's claim that persecution suffered by Jews and the Traveller community could be compared to the prejudice faced by white people with red hair.

“I’m shocked because every single day I get reports about Jews being attacked and abused for no other reason than that we are Jews,” he said. “This is not getting better, it is getting worse.”

In a letter to the Observer published on Sunday, Abbott wrote that because in pre-civil rights America the Irish, Travellers and Jews were not required to sit at the back of the bus - while black people were - they could not be subject to racism.

Speaking at the same table at which, he claimed, he had met Abbott many times, Gluck said: “Diane wrote about black people on buses. Sadly today in 2023 we have constant reports of Jews abused on buses, kicked off buses, asking the driver for support and nothing is done.

“A few weeks ago I was at a station in Hackney, in Diane’s constituency. A train arrived with eight carriages, plenty of room, but it was packed with Chelsea FC supporters. One said, ‘We don’t allow Jews on the train’. I thought he was joking and tried to get on, but they pushed me off.

“Jews are still being discriminated against. I didn’t even report it because I know its a waste of time.

“This is nothing new: Jews are kicked off buses, abused, there are hundreds of cases.”

Amid the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Abbott’s letter read, "There were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships."

This, Gluck said, reveals a “blind spot” in her experience. 

“In living memory, Jews were slaves, slaves in the classical sense, forced to work for the Nazi war machine,” he said.

“My grandparents were forced to work as slave labourers until 1944, then they were killed. They were treated worse than cattle, worse than machines. 

“I was terribly shocked that Diane Abbott brushed under the carpet and ignored this. I would expect an intelligent, Cambridge-educated individual would be aware of these issues.”

The letter came as a particular shock, Gluck continued, because of Abbott’s previous commitment to her heavily Charedi constituency.

“Diane has worked passionately for the community,” he said. 

“She has helped us with shechita, with immigration issues, with the Shomrim.

“She’s done a tremendous amount for the black community, the Jewish community and her constituents at large. She’s also an important voice for many people throughout the country…

“She has suffered disproportionately from racist attacks as a black woman. She is attacked totally disproportionately and is a voice for the pain and suffering of the black community.

But, Gluck added, she needs to be aware of the pain and suffering of other communities too. 

“There should be enough space in people’s hearts for the suffering of the Jewish people, black people, the traveller community, and the Irish.”

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