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The Diane Abbott row reveals the poison of woke anti-Semitism

The Diane Abbott row reveals the poison of woke anti-Semitism
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Just when we thought the Diane Abbott row was inching towards its grubby conclusion, it has descended into farce. After 24 hours of furious briefing, we’re still none the wiser as to whether the long-serving MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington – the seat Abbott has held since 1987, when she became the UK’s first black female MP – will stand for the Labour Party at the General Election.

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The Times revealed last night that Abbott had been banned from standing, after spending a year in procedural limbo. She had the party whip suspended in April last year, after she wrote a letter to the Observer, arguing that Jews – as well as the Irish and Travellers – do not experience racism.

Then, in what appeared to be the most Keir Starmer move ever, we were told last night that Abbott had been given the whip back, but would still not be allowed to stand. She confirmed this version of events to various media outlets this morning.

This apparent bit of triangulation didn’t spare Starmer any backlash. The media were aghast and the Labour left was in uproar this morning. ‘This is outrageous news which confirms that the Starmer leadership is trying to force Britain’s first black woman MP out of parliament’, thundered Momentum, the Corbynista wing of Labour.

Even some of the Blairites were spitting feathers. New Labour spinner John McTernan told Times Radio the briefings to the papers about Abbott’s departure were ‘aimed at humiliating her, and it’s disgraceful’.

Now, in another confusing twist, Starmer has told a bemused press pack that, actually, Abbott has not been banned from the seat at all, and that the decision is yet to be made. Clear as mud?

True to form, Starmer has made a bad situation infinitely worse, with his trademark mix of stammering inaction and barefaced dishonesty. The BBC revealed earlier this week that the disciplinary process against Abbott had concluded in December, with her asked to undergo an ‘online, e-learning module’ on anti-Semitism. But as of a few days ago, Starmer was still saying the process was ongoing, and that he couldn’t comment further.

Whatever else one thinks of Abbott and her abhorrent comments in that letter, the way in which this has been handled reflects a hamfisted factionalism that has defined Starmer’s brittle leadership.

But let’s talk about that letter for a moment. Because in the media circus currently engulfing Starmer and Abbott, the original offence that sparked her suspension is being completely – I’d say, purposefully – ignored.

Indeed, much of the spluttering takes of recent days have barely made any mention of it. ‘Starmer’s team end the political career of Britain’s first black female politician with a leak to the Murdoch press’, tweeted leftist influencer Owen Jones last night, in response to The Times splash, as if the Labour leader just woke up one morning and decided to tear Abbott down. ‘She made a mistake, at most’, is how Richard Murphy, a former adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, puts it.

A mistake? That’s certainly been the claim Diane Abbott has been making since her letter appeared in the pages of the Observer last April, in which she took issue with an article that argued racism has never simply been about skin colour, given the murderous hatred meted out against Jews and other groups throughout history. She said ‘an initial draft’ was sent accidentally. But this has always been impossible to believe.

Jews, Travellers and the Irish ‘undoubtedly experience prejudice’, declared Abbott’s letter. ‘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.’

Read that again and tell me you think it was nothing more than a mishap – a schoolboy error. I mean, who among us hasn’t accidentally sent a letter to a national newspaper, blithely suggesting that Jews experienced no worse than your average ginger during the dark days of the mid-20th century? You know, despite the mechanised, genocidal horrors of the Holocaust.

Abbott was good enough to apologise, almost instantly, for her comments. But as Jake Wallis Simons, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, put it at the time: ‘You don’t just say things like that by mistake. You say them because you think them, and then you seek to tone them down when you realise how offensive they are, belatedly, because of the outrage that you face.’

Since then, the accidental-letter thesis has collided with the evidence. The JC has revealed that Abbott sent the same letter in twice, just hours apart, from her own email address, suggesting this wasn’t the work of a fat-fingered aide. Now, the BBC reports that she has admitted to Labour officials that the ‘initial draft’ was ‘the only version that had been written’.

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That letter was the starkest illustration yet of how woke identity politics rejects the suffering of Jews. Under the new racial ideology, which has become the prevailing orthodoxy on Abbott’s section of the left, Jews have ludicrously, despicably, been recast as privileged whites who cannot experience racism, by definition.

This dismissal of Jewish suffering – past and present – provides the kindling for the new, woke anti-Semitism. It is how an Islamist pogrom against Jewish civilians can be hailed by self-identified progressives as an act of resistance. For if Israelis and Jews can never really be the victims, then any agitation against them is justified.

There should always be room for redemption. Some Labour MPs have come back from worse than Abbott. Naz Shah, who was suspended in 2016 over explicitly anti-Semitic social-media posts, went to great lengths to atone for her old views, before being welcomed back into the Labour fold, with the support of Jewish organisations.

But Abbott’s hastily written apology, her unconvincing attempt to present it as a misunderstanding and her completion of a two-hour online course is hardly enough to establish her contrition. To dismiss that letter as a brain fart at worst, as her allies have been doing, is an insult to British Jews – and to Abbott’s intelligence.

Starmer will get no credit for how he has handled this. Even if he begrudgingly allows Abbott to stand again, bending to the outrage of activists and the media, he’ll still be damned as a petty sectarian. On this, the Corbynistas are half-right. His approach to tackling anti-Semitism has been riddled with double standards.

Remember Azhar Ali? The one-time Labour candidate for Rochdale, and Starmer loyalist, was caught on tape earlier this year sharing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He said Israel allowed its own citizens to be attacked on 7 October, so as to have an excuse to carpet-bomb Gaza. Remarkably, the leadership stuck by him at first, taking his apologies at face value.

It was only after more audio surfaced, in which Ali could be heard sounding off about ‘certain Jewish quarters’ in the media, that Starmer was forced to drop him. This factionalism has been a gift to the bigots within his party, convinced that Labour’s anti-Semitism scandal is just a conspiracy against the left, stoked by the ‘Israel lobby’.

But we shouldn’t allow anyone to pretend that the Abbott controversy was just a political smear job – or one big fuss over nothing. Worse still, many are trying to deflect attention away from it entirely, and to diminish Abbott’s personal responsibility, on the basis of her identity and backstory.

Every single comment about this scandal seems to be prefaced with that obligatory word, ‘trailblazer’. There are constant references to Abbott’s considerable achievements as Britain’s first black female MP, and to the horrific racist abuse she has suffered over the years – to the awful burden that was borne by ‘trailblazing’, ethnic-minority politicians such as herself.

I’m sorry, but this is beginning to sound like an excuse. And a grotesque excuse at that. Abbott, goes the line, couldn’t possibly have said anything wrongheaded, because she herself has been a victim of racism. At the very least, we need to treat her more gently in light of it. That’s the upshot of what her defenders are saying.

Well, to hell with that. This hierarchy of bigotries, this infernal game of victimhood Top Trumps, is what got us into this mess in the first place. In which a supposedly progressive, anti-racist MP found herself arguing that Jews – ostracised, brutalised and butchered for centuries – couldn’t possibly be the victims of racism.

What will happen now with Diane Abbott? It’s anyone’s guess. It’s a matter for Labour’s blundering leadership, and the serving MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. But the fight against the new anti-Semitism – against a woke ideology that has breathed new life into the world’s oldest hatred – is a matter for us all.

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Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on X: @Tom_Slater_





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