High-profile legislator Diane Abbott has been suspended by the main opposition Labour Party in Britain because of a letter she wrote in which she claimed that racism and prejudice towards Jews were not the same thing.
According to surveys, Labour is set to establish Britain’s next government after an election that is scheduled for next year. However, under its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the party was accused of discriminating against and harassing Jews.
The equalities watchdog found in 2020 Labour had serious failings in the party’s handling of persistent antisemitism complaints.
Abbott, 69, was responding to a writer’s claims that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people suffered racism. She said that their experiences were similar to racism but that there were differences.
“They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable,” she wrote.
“It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice,” she said in the letter. “But they are not all their lives subject to racism.”
Abbott, who has been a lawmaker since 1987, was the first Black woman to be elected to parliament in Britain, and is a close ally of Corbyn for whom she served as the party’s spokesperson for home affairs.
In her letter to the Observer, Abbott said that “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.”
She later apologised “unreservedly” and withdrew her remarks.
“The errors arose in an initial draft being sent,” she said in a message posted on Twitter. “But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.”
A spokesperson for Labour party said she had been suspended pending an investigation.
British politicians condemned her comments made in the letter. The energy secretary, Grant Shapps, who is Jewish, said on Twitter that “once again, Jewish people have to wake up and see a Labour MP casually spouting hateful anti-Semitism.”
Corbyn himself was suspended and blocked from standing as a Labour candidate at the next general election expected next year after claiming antisemitism in the party during his leadership had been “dramatically overstated” for political reasons.
Britain’s equalities watchdog said earlier this year the Labour Party had made sufficient changes over the last two years to tackle antisemitism.