Subverting the Grievances of Anti-Racism and the attack on Diane Abbott MP

The words bias, prejudice and bigotry have long existed in the English language. From the middle of the last-century onwards, the more recent term racism was designed to point more precisely to the structural and historical condition of the Black experience—of peoples who in various combinations were once owned and colonised; whose original lands, culture, languages, extended social structures and more were taken by force; and who, in modern society, have little or no collective institutional or financial power to combat their ghettoisation in, predominantly, the lower reaches of Western class systems.

Against the background of this definition being—with some minor international variations—a long-established norm, Black British MP Diane Abbott wrote the following open letter responding to a young Black journalist in the UK’s Observer newspaper:

Tomiwa Owolade claims that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from ‘racism’. They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.

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. 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.

In response, Abbott was subjected to an orchestrated campaign of abuse from the apartheid colonialist Israel lobby supported by the UK corporate news media. The career opportunist, and therefore self-proclaimed Zionist and pro-Israel propagandist, Labour Leader Keir Starmer suspended her and even intrusively described her sentiments—which were an ethnic in-house conversation between a mature Black MP and a younger Black journalist—as anti-Semitic.

Incredibly, this happened regardless of Diane Abbott’s status as the undisputedly most racially abused politician in the history of Britain’s parliament. Incredibly, it happened around three weeks after Black Briton Chris Kaba was shot dead in South London by police—the latest in a long line of BLM deaths at their hands. As if making Abbott’s point, the moral panic mobilised against her for a supposed ‘misuse’ of language was given greater prominence than Kaba’s killing. And it bears repeating that there is no Jewish equivalent to BLM deaths at police hands.

Black British MP Diane Abbott at a Jeremy Corbyn leadership rally in August 2016

Abbott’s description of racism largely matches that on Wikipedia’s Societal Racism page. The Aspen Institute’s similar definition of Structural Racism is widely accepted and often used as a public institutional guide. Here it alludes to ‘dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with ‘whiteness’ and disadvantages associated with ‘colour’ to endure and adapt over time’.

Clearly Abbott is the victim of an attempt to subvert the long-established definition of racism and thus make it harder for Black and Indigenous people to talk back to power, whether that power is in the form of domestic establishment authority, Western settler colonialism or the new post-Iraq War racist-imperialist Western foreign policy.

Abbott is in good company. Perhaps demonstrating the accuracy of the historic/structural definition of racism, there is no status or level or achievement that protects Black victims from these type of attacks. Nelson Mandela was smeared as ‘an enabler of anti-Semitism’ by the Israel National News. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also been regularly smeared by the same lobby, as were Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. U.S. Members of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley have faced similar attacks. Attempts were made to ‘rescind’ a Civil Rights Award to academic and former 1960s radical icon Angela Davis because of her support for Palestinians. To these names we can add Jackie Walker and campaigner Marc Wadsworth—the latter a Black activist in the historic Stephen Lawrence racist killing case, libelled by the Jewish Chronicle, whose editor would later appear on Sky News fraudulently claiming Abbott was trying to ‘redefine’ racism.

Currently, the only lobby outside of the KKK and its affiliates attempting to suggest it is oppressed by Black and Indigenous peoples is the one claiming white colonial conquest and apartheid domination in Palestine can be excused by religion.

Hierarchy of Racism and Holocausts

Shortly after Abbott’s letter was published, Richard Best, editor of the UK’s Independent news site, commissioned two articles condemning her, both by white writers. Sean O’Grady had the gall to suggest Abbott and the Left were guilty of a ‘hierarchy of racism’. But over the last nine years there has been a pro-Israel moral panic designed to overwrite the victim status of the dead and injured from the country’s two-month-long summer bombing of Gaza in 2014, and the ‘hierarchy of racism’—the idea that only one identity counts for victim status—has been a consistent complaint of those criticising the new, pro-colonialist, enforced media McCarthyism. This pro-Israel McCarthyism has been critiqued by, among others, Artists for Palestine, ex-ambassador Craig Murray, Jewish Voice for Labour, Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor and Reuters. To now invert the status of victim and McCarthyite perpetrator after so many years of ignoring the concept, and its accompanying complaints, is quite a provocation.

As a consequence of the lobbying of the new McCarthyism, most UK news outlets now refer exclusively to Jewish victims of the Nazis and to anti-Semitism rather than to the full diversity of victims and Nazi eugenics. One of the most enthusiastic proponents of this rewriting of history and of what constitutes ‘racism’ is 90s comedian, now media pundit, David Baddiel. In a 2018 tv appearance Baddiel likened anti-Semitism to cancer and other forms of racism merely to the shingles. Scandalously, the BBC broadcast this, but then this is the same tv management that in broadcasts refused to classify Tony Blair’s victims as members of the human race and therefore worthy of mention, or to acknowledge Israel’s annual death tolls of Palestinian children. But in fact, according to Holocaust historians Benjamin Madley, Clarence Lusane and Tina Campt, the policy model for Nazi crimes was colonial holocausts against Black people, and particularly the German slaughter of up to 80 per cent of the Herero tribe of Namibia. Similarly, Annegret Ehmann of the Wannsee Memorial Centre, when interviewed in the 90s, pointed out that ‘The racial theories of the Nazis were not an invention of the Nazis. They date back to the colonial administration. Mixed marriage, Mischling, Race-disgrace, all these terms were already in use during the colonial time. And there was already a law already made in the colonies prohibiting mixed marriages’. Eugen Fischer was credited with making The Final Solution possible, but prior to getting his hands on white ethnic victims, he first performed human experiments on what was left of the Namibian population. Back in Germany it was his job to sterilise young Black mixed-race boys whom the Nazis were desperate to round up before they reached puberty and potentially became sexually active. Without the template of the victimisation of Black Indigenous populations, might Nazi crimes have taken a different form?

Some of the more blatant ‘hierarchy of racism’ manipulations can be found in the non-representation of comparable holocausts. Adam Hothschild, in his history King Leopold’s Ghost, cites the Belgian killing of 10 million Africans in the Congo. Historian Amaresh Mishra in his book War of Civilisations: 1857 records how the British, in putting down an Indian uprising, presided over an ‘untold Holocaust’ which caused the deaths of almost 10 million people during the 10 years beginning in 1857. In his books Inglorious Empire and An Era of Darkness, historian and former UN Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor cites 35 million deaths attributable to the British Raj, including deaths from stealing India’s food supplies. David Stannard, in his book American Holocaust, cites 100 million killed in the conquest of the Americas. Anyone visiting the Holocaust Memorial Day (HDM) website will find none of these listed. Nor will they find the 60 million victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This means that the evils of the slavery and colonialism gravy-train—of which apartheid Israel is the only latest manifestation—are absented from history. And the Western racist-imperialist agenda can be spun as a giant white saviour narrative. Illustrative of its partisan political priorities, HMD unsurprisingly condemned Abbott.

According to the UN figures released at the time, in its 2014 bombardment of Gaza Israel killed 2251 civilians, 551 of whom were children. In the final month of the bombardment it received the support of England’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who told The Times, ‘Israel has no choice but to use force in Gaza’. Mirvis hypocritically applies the Tebbitt test to Black minorities, suggesting that their identification with foreign sports teams demonstrates them to be not really British, while championing the IHRC diktat that it is supposedly anti-Semitic to similarly question the loyalty Western Jews give to apartheid Israel. Obviously Black Britons—even Black Jews—would find parts of Israel hazardous.

Compare Mirvis with other white Western church leaders. Pope John Paul II apologised for the Catholic Church’s role in slavery in 1985 and again in 1992. In 2006 the UK’s Archbishop of Canterbury apologised on behalf of the Protestant Church of England ‘for benefiting from the slave trade’, and again in 2020. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, apologised in 1995 and in 2018 admitted to a history of ‘slaveholding’ and ‘deep racism’. It is hard to find a record of Mirvis issuing an equivalent apology. Instead of giving it any criticism remotely like Abbott’s, the establishment media treats even mentioning Jewish participation in slavery as an offence. In September 2016, for example, the Black-Jewish pro-Palestinian activist Jackie Walker referred to Jewish participation in slavery and the non-status of Black colonial holocausts, and was given the full Diane Abbott treatment and more, driven out of the corporatised public sphere by a campaign of abuse and misinformation—including an interview with UK Channel 4 News’s Cathy Newman based on second-class status for Black lives, and a Black holocaust denial subtext.

Yet outside of corporate media ideological re-engineering, supporting evidence is easily identifiable. Not only is there a Jewish Museum in the former slave economy of Jamaica, but its opening elicited the following complaint from Professor Carolyn Cooper of the University of the West Indies: ‘I was somewhat surprised to see that the museum didn’t tell the whole story of Jewish history in Jamaica. The role of Jews in plantation slavery is not documented at all’. There is also a tourist excursion around old Jewish sites of interest in the former slave economy of Trinidad & Tobago. The Head Office and global safe houses of the Rastafarian movement are called The 12 Tribes of Israel—the movement is a mirror-cracked reflection or copy of the religion of the Jewish colonial class. Similarly, in Reggae culture the religious mythology of the Jewish colonial class functions as metaphor for the Black experience of bondage and servitude, featuring in examples such as Bob Marley’s Exodus and Desmond Decker’s The Israelites.

The BBC’s first Black tv journalist was the Jamaican Eric Abrahams. He may just be mixed-race, or equally he may be one of the thousands of people of colour across the Caribbean and South America with—to paraphrase Muhammad Ali—a Jewish slave name. To him we can add notables like Reggae star Barrington Levy, former Jamaican-British athletics star Glen Cohen, and his professional footballer son Gary Cohen. Like Catholic and Protestant participation in slavery, the Jewish presence is undeniable.

These double standards and manufactured media outrages have broader victims. Free from media scrutiny, Keir Starmer has chased hundreds of Jewish leftist members out of the Labour Party. It’s been suggested that Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) will be denied the option of affiliation with Jewish Voice for Labour, and with Jews for Justice for Palestinians. The campaign activities of Jewish Voice for Peace are largely blacked-out by the English language media. Jewish Pro-Palestinian writer/activist Tony Greenstein has been smeared as an anti-Semite in the British Press while documenting shared Zionist colonialist/Nazi links. The same forces denying Diane Abbott the right to define racism and former slave societies the right to articulate their own history paint socialists, anti-racists and anti-colonial activists as the ‘wrong sort of Jews’.

Pressure: A Personal Reflection on British and Western Establishment Racism

Gavin Lewis, 26 Jan 2023

To the uninitiated, this might seem like a severe personal history but among Black Britons, these types of events are often treated as tame, standard encounters that easily occur in a society in which Black Lives Matter’s deaths at the hands of the police are regarded as mere policy.

About the author

Gavin Lewis

Gavin Lewis is a freelance Black British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race, and representation. He has taught critical theory and film and cultural studies at a number of British universities.

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