Labour suspends Diane Abbott after letter claiming Jews do not suffer racism

The Hackney MP has apologised for the remarks and said draft of letter had been sent in error


LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott speaks at the launch of the Labour Race and Faith Manifesto at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on November 26, 2019 in London, England. Mr Corbyn is campaigning ahead of the United Kingdom's December 12 general election. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

The Labour Party has suspended Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington,  following a letter in today’s Observer which argued that Jews do not suffer from racism.

Ms Abbott apologised earlier today and withdrew the letter, which had argued that “Irish, Jewish and Traveller people” experienced prejudice but this was not the same as racism.

A Labour spokesman said, “The Labour Party completely condemns these comments which are deeply offensive and wrong.”

The chief whip had "suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation,” he added

In a statement on Twitter this morning, Ms Abbott, whose constituency has a large Strictly Orthodox Jewish population, said she wished to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and dissassociate myself from them”.

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

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”.

In her published letter, she had written that prejudice was “similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable”.

It was true, she had written, that “many types of white people” could experience prejudice. “But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil rights America, 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.”

The letter had been sent in response an article about the recently published Evidence for Equality National Survey which found that 55 per cent of Jews said they had experienced a racist assault.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, president of the Orthodox defence group Shomrim in Stamford Hill, who lives in the MP’s constituency, said he had been “shocked” to read the letter but said Ms Abbott’s apology was “sincere and heartfelt and I certainly appreciate that”. 

But the Board of Deputies, which called the letter "disgraceful", found Ms Abbott's apology was "entirely unconvincing" and said it had written to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to ask him to remove the party whip from her.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said on Twitter it was “good” the remarks had been withdrawn.

“There are those who deem antisemitism as a 'lesser' form of racism, a somehow less embedded or extreme form of hatred,” she added.

“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. “

Dave Rich, policy director of the CST, said, "While it is welcome that Diane Abbott has withdrawn her appalling denial of the reality of anti-Jewish racism, the harm caused by her views will be much more widespread and it is right that the Labour Party have suspended the whip. 

“Omitting the Holocaust from a list of the most grievous examples of modern racism is the inevitable consequence of this drive to define racism as purely something based on skin colour. Much better, surely, to acknowledge that racism affects different communities in a variety of ways, and to find their common features rather than creating a divisive hierarchy."

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