Antisemitism in Political Parties

Diane Abbott

1987-present: Labour Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Incidents

1. On 1st May 2016, when interviewed by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show, Ms Abbott said: “It’s a smear to say that Labour has a problem with antisemitism. It is something like a smear against ordinary party members.”

2. On 6th April 2017, Ms Abbott appeared on BBC’s Question Time. When fellow panellist Gerard Coyne, a candidate to lead the Unite union, said that Ken Livingstone should have been expelled because “his comments are an affront to the six million Jews who lost their lives — and their families — in the Holocaust”, and that Labour has a general problem with antisemitism, Ms Abbott retorted: “When Gerard says that the Labour Party has an institutional problem with racism, or institutional antisemitism, because they’re one and the same, when you say that the Labour Party has a problem with institutional antisemitism and racism, I’m sorry you feel the need to attack your Party. I’m proud of the Labour Party’s record on fighting racism and antisemitism.” She also refused to answer directly a question about whether Ken Livingstone should be expelled from the Party for his comments about Hitler supposedly supporting Zionism.

3. On 26th March 2018, Ms Abbott reportedly “ranted” about what she said was an orchestrated attack on Jeremy Corbyn, in a meeting of her shadow Home Office team. 

4. On 27th March 2018, Ms Abbott reportedly promoted a tweet by @Rachael_Swindon (a prominent pro-Jeremy Corbyn Twitter account whose operator has not only persistently dismissed claims of antisemitism, but has also promoted antisemitic discourse and conspiracy theories) which claimed that thousands of people had joined the Labour Party in the wake of the previous day’s protest against antisemitism because they were “so disgusted by the constant smearing of Jeremy Corbyn” (a claim which was confirmed to be entirely untrue).

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Ms Abbott’s actions and statements qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

By characterising those who allege antisemitism in the Labour Party as politically motivated, by describing allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party as “smears” and tantamount to an unfounded “attack” on the Party [1], [2], [4]; and by suggesting that those involved in protesting against antisemitism were engaged in an orchestrated attack on Jeremy Corbyn [3], Ms Abbott necessarily includes those Jewish groups and individuals who have publicly and repeatedly done so. In doing so, she is deploying the so-called Livingstone Formulation, by accusing Jews who cite evidence of antisemitism of lying, conspiring or having deceitful motives in doing so when there is clear evidence that there have been breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism. As such, she was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

Furthermore, we note that on 26th March 2018, in a published response to complaints of antisemitism by Jewish community charities, Jeremy Corbyn MP stated: “I recognise that anti-Semitism [sic] has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples.” On 24th April 2018, in an article published in the Evening Standard, Mr Corbyn stated: “We must strive to understand why anti-Semitism [sic] has surfaced in our party…”, and “when members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties we must recognise them as we would those of any other community. Their concerns are not ‘smears’.” 

Outcome

On June 5th 1987, it was reported that, in response to a question concerning the United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, Ms Abbott described the resolution as “Obviously wrong”, adding that “One of the problems with a lot of the anti-Zionist debate and rhetoric, even on the Left…is that sometimes it is a mere vehicle for anti-semitism [sic].”

On 1st May 2016, it was reported that Ms Abbott’s response in [1] had caused dismay amongst many members of the parliamentary Labour Party. Ben Bradshaw, the former culture minister, reportedly said that Labour members were furious at how allegations of antisemitism had been handled.

On May 18th 2017, it was reported that orthodox Jews within Ms Abbott’s constituency were reconsidering their support for her in the light of the Labour leadership’s failure to deal with antisemitism within the Party. Rabbi Avraham Pinter, a former Labour councillor, said that, for the first time in more than 30 years, he “might not vote” at all because of the “pain” and “anguish” caused by what he called Ms Abbott’s unwillingness to recognise Labour’s antisemitism problem. He also claimed that repeated attempts to speak to Ms Abbott had failed, saying that, whilst she had an exemplary record on fighting racism, she had yet to recognise there was a problem in her Party.

On 29th March 2018, it was reported that Ms Abbott had responded to claims of her having described protests against antisemitism as being an orchestrated attack on Jeremy Corbyn [4] by saying: “No-one [sic] who was at the meeting could accurately suggest that I dimissed [sic] the accusations of antisemitism. On the contrary, I reported to the Home Affairs team the discussion of the earlier Shadow Cabinet. There was unanimity in both meetings to take antisemitism with the utmost seriousness and determination to tackle it head-on. Any other suggestion is false.”

On April 18th 2018, it was reported that Ms Abbott had been criticised for her actions during her closing speech in the previous day’s parliamentary debate on antisemitism in the commons, initially refusing to allow Alex Sobel MP, who is Jewish, to speak, then failing to address his concerns. Dame Louise Ellman MP reportedly accused Ms Abbott of making a “grave misjudgement” with her remarks, whilst Wes Streeting MP said he feared the wider Jewish community would be “horrified by the response from our front bench to this debate today”. It was reported the following day that Ms Abbott had apologised to Mr Sobel.

On 27th January 2019, Ms Abbott reportedly told LBC radio that the Labour Party was working “really hard” to address complaints of antisemitism, but admitted that there had been a problem with the time taken to investigate when the number of complaints had risen the previous year.

On 1st March 2019, it was reported that Ms Abbott had been in attendance at a meeting of her constituency Labour Party where a motion was passed which denied the assertion that the party was institutionally antisemitic. Ms Abbott had reportedly failed to speak out against the motion. The Jewish Chronicle reported having been told by a source who had been present that some Jewish members had been “extraordinarily upset” by the motion.The source reportedly added: “I just don’t understand why it was necessary. We have a lot of Jewish members. Obviously it was going to cause a lot of people a lot of upset, and that’s what it did. There were a lot of people in tears. Some said they wouldn’t be coming back again.”

On 28th March 2019, it was reported that Ms Abbott had spoken at the launch of a report by Spinwatch, one of a number of projects headed by Bristol University’s Professor David Miller, who had previously been suspended from (and readmitted to) the Labour Party for alleged antisemitic discourse. He has condemned Ken Livingstone’s treatment by the Labour Party as absurd and a disgrace, said there was nothing historically inaccurate about Livingstone’s comments about Hitler and Zionism, and dismissed the fears of Jewish students on campus as propaganda.

On 18th September 2019, it was reported that Ms Abbott was scheduled to speak at a Labour Party conference fringe event alongside a leader of the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement Omar Barghouti, who has made statements which breach the International Definition of Antisemitism. 

On 6th November 2019, on the BBC’s Today programme, Ms Abbott was challenged to answer the accusation that the Labour Party doesn’t listen to the victims of antisemitism, and that “Every spokesperson for the Jewish community says you haven’t done enough”. Ms Abbott stated: “We are still doing everything we can, and it’s not every element of the Jewish community that believes Jeremy [Corbyn] is an antisemite.” Further challenged by the suggestion that “every major Jewish newspaper says it; every major representative Jewish body says it,” she responded: “Yeah, well, the Hasidic community in Stamford Hill doesn’t say that.”

However, Ms Abbott’s remarks were contradicted by a senior member of Stamford Hill’s charedi community, who suggested that she was “totally out of touch with the reality” of how Jews in her constituency felt about antisemitism. Former Labour councillor Rabbi Avraham Pinter reportedly said: “I don’t know who she is talking about. Because there is no question that the majority of the people I talk to in the community are talking about antisemitism in the party, it is a concern in the community, we have others, but to suggest that we are not concerned about what has happened in the Labour Party or think they have done enough is false.” He also reportedly said that she should know better than “to use the Charedi Jewish community for political gain.”

We do not know whether disciplinary action has been taken by the Labour Party against Ms Abbott, and at the time of writing, on 24th November 2019, we have no record of any. However, the circumstances and outcomes of any such action would remain unknown, owing to the conditions of secrecy imposed by Baroness Chakrabarti’s report on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

In November 2019, Campaign Against Antisemitism put this matter to Ms Abbott, but did not receive a response.

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “bad”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 13th May 2020.

Justice, justice, you shall pursue - צדק צדק תרדף
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