Diane Abbott has Labour whip suspended after comments on ‘white racism’

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Diane Abbott has had the Labour whip suspended after comments she made suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.

Ms Abbott, who served as Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow home secretary, wrote in a letter in The Observer that although white people “with points of difference” suffer prejudice, they have not suffered the same racism as black people.

However, Labour confirmed that the whip has been suspended from her pending an investigation into the letter.

A party spokesman 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.”

Ms Abbott said on Twitter: “I am writing regarding my letter that was recently published in The Observer.

“I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my written remarks and disassociate myself from them.

“The errors 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.

“Once again, I would like to apologise publicly for the remarks and any distress caused as a result of them.”

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP had been responding to a comment which suggested that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from racism in the UK.

She wrote: “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. 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.”

Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said Ms Abbott’s letter in the Observer was “deeply offensive” and commended the party’s move to swiftly suspend her.

“Diane Abbott’s letter was deeply offensive and deeply depressing,” she tweeted.

“Keir Starmer’s response is right. No excuses. No delays. The comments will be investigated and she has been immediately suspended.”

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter: “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?”

Olivia Marks-Woldman, CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “To say that white people are not subject to racism is factually wrong, a distortion of history and an insult both to the victims and to those who survived horrific persecution.

“Antisemitism – anti-Jewish hatred – and anti-Gypsyism are forms of racism, ones that are deeply ingrained even today.

“Diane Abbott’s apology for her appalling letter is a start, but the letter shows her fundamental lack of understanding of racism, and the different forms it takes. Moreover, to compare different forms of racism is unhelpful and dangerously divisive.

“We urge Ms Abbott to put her apology into action, and learn more about the complexities of each form of racism.”

A spokesman for the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Diane Abbott’s claim that Jewish people cannot suffer racism is outrageous in itself, but made all the more extraordinary given all that has unfolded in the Labour Party over the past few years.

“She 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.

“We already made complaints against her, which the party has never investigated. Her suspension now is past time, and must be the first step towards her expulsion from the party.”

Labour Against Antisemitism said Ms Abbott’s comments are “simply unacceptable” and had called on Sir Keir to remove the whip from her.

Spokeswoman Fiona Sharpe said: “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.

“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 Jewish Labour Movement welcomed the move to suspend the whip, saying: “Diane Abbott is one of the most respected people in the Labour Party as an activist who 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.

“A hierarchy of racism only divides communities and assists the racists. We must not allow this.

“We take seriously our responsibility to unite with friends and partners across the Labour movement to fight racism together.”

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