Diane Abbott suspended by Labour after suggesting Jewish people do not face racism

MP faces calls for explusion after saying Jewish people experience prejudice similar to redheads

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 24 April 2023 05:41 BST
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Diane Abbott suspended by Labour after suggesting Jewish people do not face racism

The Labour whip has been suspended from Diane Abbott pending an investigation into a letter the MP wrote suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

Ms Abbott, the former shadow home secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, apologised over the comments and said the letter published in The Observer had been an “initial draft” sent by mistake.

It stated that 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.”

Ms Abbott had 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.”

Despite Ms Abbott’s apology, amid widespread outrage on Sunday morning, Labour’s chief whip Alan Campbell decided to withdraw the whip while inquiries take place.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party completely condemns these comments, which are deeply offensive and wrong. The chief whip has suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”

Among those expressing their outrage, Tory cabinet minister Grant Shapps said: “Once again, Jewish people have to wake up and see a Labour MP casually spouting hateful antisemitism. Keir Starmer are you actually going to do anything?”

Ms Abbott’s short letter, which is still online, provoked a furious reaction on social media on Sunday morning before the Labour MP issued an apology – dissociating herself from her own letter and saying she withdrew her remarks.

“I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them,” said the Labour MP. “The errors arose in an initial draft being sent. But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.

Diane Abbott and then-shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer at 2019 rally

Ms Abbot added: “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 Guardian column by Tomiwa Owolade arguing that that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from racism.

Ms Abbott had written: “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 MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington added: “And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said Ms Abbott’s letter “was disgraceful and her apology is entirely unconvincing”, while the Jewish Labour Movement said it “regretfully” supports the decision to suspend the whip.

Diane Abbott served as shadow home secretary under Jeremy Corbyn

Fellow left-winger Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum, also condemned the remarks. “A disgraceful comment by Diane Abbott for which she has rightly been suspended from the Labour Party. Racism is not a competition!” he tweeted.

Labour Against Antisemitism said Ms Abbott’s comments were “simply unacceptable” as the group also called on Sir Keir to remove the whip. “To reduce the racism faced by Jews to mere prejudice when in living memory six million Jews were systematically slaughtered in Europe for their race is grossly offensive,” said spokesperson Fiona Sharpe.

She added: “In the UK today one in five of all Jews have suffered a racist attack, with more than one in three Gypsy, Roma and Traveller reporting the same. Ms Abbott is either woefully misinformed or deliberately bigoted. Neither should be tolerated.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism said her suspension “must be the first step towards her expulsion from the party”. A spokesperson for the campaign said Ms Abbott and her allies on the “far left” of the party “could never accept how bad antisemitism had become because they do not even acknowledge that it is a form of racism”.

Diane Abbott has had the Labour whip suspended after comments

Jake Wallis Simons, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, also called for Ms Abbott to be permanently expelled. “I can’t really see what is to investigate,” he told Sky News. “All the evidence is out there. She’s given her defence already. She needs to be expelled.”

He added: “It seems to me as if you don’t just say things like that by mistake. You say them because you think them, and then you seek to tone them down when you realise how offensive they are, belatedly, because of the outrage that you face.”

Labour MPs told The Independent the investigation should be done “quickly” – saying the facts and apology were clear enough not to “delay” any punishment.

Despite causes for her permanent expulsion, Labour MPs sympathetic to Ms Abbott’s return fear she could suspended indefinitely in a bid to undermine her selection as a candidate at the next general election.

A close ally of Mr Corbyn, Ms Abbott said it was “extraordinary” for Sir Keir to have formally blocked him from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election.

Mr Corbyn was suspended for his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into antisemitism in the party, arguing the issue had been “overstated” by his political opponents.

Mr Corbyn has called the decision a “shameful attack on party democracy”. He also said Sir Keir’s claims that the pair were never friends is “primary school stuff” and lashed out at anti-Rishi Sunak attack ads as “bad news all around”.

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