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The Labour party has suspended Diane Abbott, a key ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, after she suggested Jewish people had never been “subject to racism” in a letter to a UK newspaper.

The swift action comes just weeks after Corbyn was blocked from standing in future as a Labour candidate after his own refusal to wholeheartedly apologise for antisemitism within Britain’s main opposition party.

Abbott, who was shadow home secretary under Corbyn, found herself in political trouble after suggesting that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people only experienced “prejudice” rather than racism.

“It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice,” she wrote in a letter to the Observer, published over the weekend.

“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.”

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, accused Abbott of making “appalling, offensive and ignorant” comments.

Grant Shapps, energy secretary, said: “Once again Jewish people have to wake up and see a Labour MP casually spouting hateful antisemitism.” Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth said the letter was “deeply wrong” and “deeply offensive”.

Sir Keir Starmer has made rooting out antisemitism one of his first priorities since becoming Labour leader. The Equality and Human Rights Commission found in 2020 that under Corbyn the party had failed to rein in anti-Jewish sentiment among some members.

Abbott was the first black female MP in the House of Commons when she was elected in 1987. She spent most of her political career on the backbenches before being catapulted into the shadow cabinet as Home Office spokesperson under Corbyn’s leadership.

Later on Sunday morning — before her suspension — she issued an apology for the letter on Twitter, saying it was “completely undeniable” that many Jewish, Irish and Traveller people had suffered the “monstrous effects” of racism.

“I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them,” she said.

“The errors arose in an initial draft being sent. But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.”

A Labour spokesperson said the party condemned the “deeply offensive and wrong” comments and said the chief whip had suspended the whip from Abbott pending an investigation.

The Labour Campaign Against Antisemitism pointed to statistics showing that one in five Jews and one in three people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community in the UK had suffered from racist attacks.

“Ms Abbott is either woefully misinformed or deliberately bigoted. Neither should be tolerated.”

 

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