Labor MP Diane Abbott has had her whip suspended following remarks in which she suggested Jews do not face racism, but instead suffer prejudice similar to “redheads”.
Mrs 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 is much more complicated.’
The Hackney North MP said she was responding to writer Tomiwa Owolade’s claims that “the Irish, Jews and travelers all suffer from ‘racism'”.
“They undoubtedly experience bias,” 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 whites with points of difference, such as reds, can experience this bias.
“But they are not subject to racism for life.”
The former shadow home secretary added: ‘In pre-civil rights America, the Irish, Jews and travelers weren’t expected to sit in the back of the bus.
“In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no seemingly white people handcuffed on slave ships.”
Labor condemns the “deeply offensive” comments.
Following criticism from Conservative and Labor MPs, a party spokesman said: “The Labor Party fully condemns these comments which are deeply offensive and wrong.
“Whip boss has suspended Labor whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”
The decision forces Mrs Abbott to sit as an independent MP in the House of Commons.
Abbott apologizes for ‘distress caused’
Shortly after the letter was published, Ms Abbott issued a statement saying she would “completely and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and dissociate myself from them”.
“Errors popped up when submitting an initial draft,” he wrote.
“But there is no apology, and I wish to apologize for any distress caused.”
He continued: “Racism takes many forms and it is completely undeniable that Jews have suffered its monstrous effects, as have the Irish, travelers and many others.
“Again, I would like to publicly apologize for the remarks and any distress caused by them.”
Criticism has come from Conservative MPs and from within Ms Abbott’s party.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the letter was “deeply offensive” and “deeply wrong”.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: “Once again, Jews need to wake up to a Labor MP casually spewing hateful anti-Semitism.
“@Keir_Starmer are you really going to do anything?”
Former interior minister Sajid Javid said he was “shocked by this downplaying of racism against Jews and other groups who may not have a certain skin pigmentation”.
“Redefining racism in obscure ways damages the cause for addressing it, whether it’s majority versus minority, minority versus 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 classified as an inferior race. Not sure if that’s a bias.”
Labor’s campaign against anti-Semitism said his comments were “simply unacceptable”.
The group said statistics show one in five Jews in the UK have experienced a racist attack, with more than one in three in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveler community reporting the same.
“Mrs Abbott is either woefully misinformed or deliberately bigoted. Neither should be tolerated,” he added.
The British Jewry’s Board of MPs said the letter was “disgraceful and your apology is not entirely convincing”.
The Jewish Labor 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 female MP”.
“We should be united in our fight against racism, not divided against each other,” he said.
The removal of the whip makes Mrs Abbott the eighth MP suspended by Labour.
Rupa Huq, whose whip was suspended after being accused of making a racist comment about former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, was later reinstated.
Jeremy Corbyn, who appointed Diane Abbott shadow home secretary when he was leader, continues to sit as an independent MP after being suspended by Labor for its reaction to a damning report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the way claims of anti-Semitism have been handled under its leadership.
Immediately following its publication, Corbyn said that “the extent of the problem” of Labour’s allegations of anti-Semitism had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”.
Last month it was formally blocked from Labor’s candidacy in the next election.