Rachel Riley: ‘Antisemitism is a national scandal’
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HMD 2019Presenter reveals hate

Rachel Riley: ‘Antisemitism is a national scandal’

Channel 4 presenter, who has faced a torrent of abuse for standing up to Corbynistas, among hundreds at Holocaust Educational Trust's annual Lord Merlyn-Rees event in Parliament

Joe Millis is a journalist

Communal heroes Rachel Riley and Ben Helfgott
Communal heroes Rachel Riley and Ben Helfgott

A prominent victim of horrific abuse by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn has said antisemitism is a “national scandal” that needs to be put in the spotlight.

Addressing the Holocaust Educational trust’s annual Lord Merlyn-Rees memorial event in Parliament on Tuesday, Channel 4 Countdown co-presenter Rachel Riley said: “There needs to be a bigger spotlight on antisemitism in this country. There should be a national scandal about this.”

Riley, who said her “mum’s Jewish while dad’s religion is Manchester United – I spent more time at the Theatre of Dreams [Old Trafford] than shul” – added that the “Enough is Enough” protest outside parliament last year ignited her fear about antisemitism.

“If you’d have told me I’d be in Parliament a year ago, I wouldn’t know where to begin with incredulity,” Riley said.

When she took to Twitter to express her opposition to comments by the Labour leadership and Corbyn’s supporters, she faced a torrent of abuse.

Rachel Riley at the Holocaust Educational Trust Lord Merlyn-Rees event on 22 January 2019

“In the name of Labour I’ve been called a hypocrite, lying propagandist, a tits-teeth-and-arse clothes horse dolly bird, weaponiser of anti-Semitism, fascist, right-wing extremist, Nazi sympathiser, Twitter cancer, thick Tory, brainwashed, an anti-Semite, white supremacist, hate preacher, Zio political trollster, not a real Jew, a child bully, conspiracy theorist, a paedo-protector minion puppet who my dead grandfather would be disgusted by,” she said.

“I was vilified as a paid Israeli shill, a paedo-protector and a Rothschild banker,” Riley said. “I faced outright Holocaust denial or people diminishing the Holocaust. “On Twitter the messages I’m sent are indistinguishable from neo-Nazis – but the red rose and Palestinian flags are a giveaway.”

She noted that some of the abuse she had faced was “grade-A conspiracy garbage”. Since speaking out, she said she had attracted a “who’s who of antisemitism, from the far right and the hard left”.

“Without irony,” Riley said to laughter, “If I had a penny for every time ‘evidence’ was given that I was a paid shill, I really would be as rich as a Rothschild.”

The classic tactic, she said, was “gaslighting, The victim becomes the aggressor and the aggressor becomes the wronged party”.

But “knowledge and truth are our only weapons”, Riley – who said she had been been spurred into action by the “Israel is a Racist Endeavour” posters that cropped up after Labour adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism – added.

“You need to know next to nothing to propagate Nazi or Soviet Jew-hating propaganda reframed to fit today’s narrative, which spreads like wildfire and is dangerous.

“But you need to know nearly everything to stop it. The odds are stacked in the anti-Semite’s favour.”

Riley, who has had attackers call for her sacking from Channel 4, added: “No one should have to jeopardise their safety or their careers speaking out against antisemitism. We need to remember our history.”

The packed House of Commons terrace also heard from Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, survivor Eva Clarke – who received a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours list – and HET chief executive Karen Pollock, who urged everyone to “be louder”.

Clarke recounted the story of her birth in in Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria, on 29 April 1945. She and her mother were the only survivors of their family, 15 members of whom were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“I was born in a cart, weighing just 1.5kg. My mother, Anka, weighed just 30kg,” she told the audience. “We survived because the Germans had run out of gas for exterminating Jews, Hitler committed suicide the following day and the US Army liberated Mauthausen.”

She and her mother arrived in the UK “legally” in 1945, “but we could have been migrants, refugees or asylum seekers”.

Hodge – who swore she never swore at Corbyn – described the “eternal” campaign against antisemitism, during which she had been called a “bitch and a f***ing c**t”.

She said: “I am a Jew and I am a proud Jew,” adding she was “determined to fight with every bone in my body to make sure it never happens again”.

Javid, referring to this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme “Torn From Home”, said: “As Home Secretary, I strive to make our homes a safe place… it is beyond tragic that such tragedies are still taking place in our world. It’s never been so important to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.

“Our homes are our sanctuary, our safe place and our security. It is unthinkable today that we can be torn away from them. I am striving to make our homes a safe place.

“We are supporting the creation of a national memorial to the Holocaust… I will do all I can to ensure we never let it happen again.”

Helen Hayes, the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, told Jewish News: “I went with a group of schoolchildren from Southwark to Auschwitz-Birkenau and I realised everyone should visit. While we might know the facts about the Holocaust, there is no substitute for seeing the camps.

“With every passing year, there are fewer and fewer survivors to tell their life story, and education is the key to preventing this happening again.”

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