The former shadow home secretary added: “In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus…reports Asian Lite News
Labour MP Diane Abbott has had the whip suspended following remarks in which she suggested Jewish people do not face racism, but instead suffer prejudice similar to “redheads”.
Abbott wrote a letter to The Observer newspaper, in response to an article which had the headline: “Racism in Britain is not black and white. It’s far more complicated.”
The Hackney North MP said she was responding to writer Tomiwa Owolade’s claims that “Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from ‘racism'”.
“They undoubtedly experience prejudice,” Abbott wrote. “This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable. 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.”
The former shadow home secretary added: “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. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”
Labour condemn ‘deeply offensive’ comments
Following criticism from Conservative and Labour MPs, a party 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.”
The decision forces Abbott to sit as an independent MP in the Commons.
Shortly after the letter was published, Ms Abbott issued a statement in which she said she wished to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them”. “The errors arose in an initial draft being sent,” she wrote.
“But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.”
She continued: “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.”
Criticism came from Tory MPs and from within Abbott’s party. Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the letter was “deeply offensive” and “deeply wrong”.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter: “Once again, Jewish people have to wake up and see a Labour MP casually spouting hateful anti-semitism. @Keir_Starmer are you actually going to do anything?”
Former home secretary Sajid Javid said he was “appalled by this minimisation of racism against Jews and other groups who may not have a certain skin pigmentation”.
“Redefining racism in obscure ways damages the cause of tackling it – whether that’s majority vs minority, minority vs minority, or other ‘points of difference’,” he said.
Comedian David Baddiel tweeted: “And in the middle of the 20th Century 6 million Jews were murdered after being categorised as an inferior race. Not sure that’s prejudice.”
The Labour Campaign Against Antisemitism said her comments were “simply unacceptable”.
The group said statistics show one in five Jews in the UK have suffered a racist attack, with more than one in three in the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller community reporting the same.
“Ms Abbott is either woefully misinformed or deliberately bigoted. Neither should be tolerated,” it added.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the letter was “disgraceful and her apology is entirely unconvincing”. The Jewish Labour Movement said it supported the party’s decision to suspend Ms Abbott, who it noted “overcame racism and prejudice to become Britain’s first black woman MP”.
“We should be unified in our struggle against racism, not divided against one another,” it said.
The removal of the whip makes Abbott the eighth MP to be suspended from Labour. Rupa Huq, who had the whip suspended after being accused of making a racist comment about former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, has since been reinstated.
Jeremy Corbyn, who appointed Diane Abbott as shadow home secretary when he was leader, continues to sit as an independent MP after he was suspended by Labour over his reaction to a damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into how antisemitism complaints were handled under his leadership.
Immediately after its publication, Mr Corbyn claimed “the scale of the problem” of Labour antisemitism allegations was “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”.
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