British Labour Party suspends MP who said Jews don’t suffer from racism

Diane Abbott apologized and retratcted her statement; some Jewish voices called for her reinstatement.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Labour party suspended MP Diane Abbott Sunday following a letter published in that day’s Observer saying that Jews don’t suffer from racism.

“The Labour Party completely condemns these comments which are deeply offensive and wrong,” a spokesperson said, adding that the party’s chief whip had suspended her “pending an investigation.”

England’s first black legislator, whose constituency includes a large Orthodox Jewish population, had rejected an article’s claim that Jews, the Irish, and Travellers (akin to gypsies) experience racism in the UK. The article cited, among other proofs, a survey which found that 55% of Jews said they had experienced a racist assault.

“They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism, and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable,” she wrote in response, adding that they are not the same.

“It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice,” she continued. “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,” she explained. “In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote.”

Read  Israeli fighter explains why he needed to 'beat up' this particular antisemite

After an uproar ensued, Abbott took to Twitter to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and dissassociate [sic.] myself from them.”

“Racism takes many forms, and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects,” she acknowledged, “as have Irish people, Travellers and many others.”

She took responsibility for having sent “an initial draft” instead of the true version of her letter and apologized twice in the brief tweet for having caused distress, saying, “There is no excuse.”

Dave Rich, policy director of Community Security Trust, a British charity that provides safety, security, and advice to the Jews of the UK, “welcomed” Abbott’s about-face on “her appalling denial of the reality of anti-Jewish racism.” But, he added, “the harm caused by her views will be much more widespread,” the Labour Party was right to suspend her.

Jewish Voice for Labour, a pro-Palestinian group within the party that also aims “to strengthen the party in its opposition to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism,” strongly supported the MP.

After calling the wording of Abbott’s letter “unfortunate” and applauding her apology, the group then backed its contents by saying, “Jewish people in this country of course face prejudice and racism, in particular the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox], who in their dress are highly visible, but it is not institutional, structural racism that fundamentally affects their prospects and outcomes.”

Read  Dozens of UK universities refusing to adopt leading definition of antisemitism, watchdog reveals

The letter “was not antisemitic, and the way some critics have rounded on her as if it were is cynical and unhelpful,” the group insisted, while praising Abbott for “always” having fought against “all forms” of racism.

They criticized the party move, writing, “Yes, Diane’s letter should have been drafted with more care – but this is no ground for suspension from the Labour Party.”