Countdown presenter Rachel Riley has opened up about experiencing antisemitic hate since wading into the debate on Labour and antisemitism last year, in a moving podcast talk.
Oxford graduate Riley, 32, who is also known for her appearances on Strictly Come Dancing in 2013 and as co-host for Sky’s Friday Night Sports, rose to public prominence when she replaced Carol Vorderman as Countdown’s maths wizz.
She waded into Labour’s antisemitism row in September last year, at which point she began receiving hateful messages online. This continued earlier this month, when she called former MP George Galloway “antisemite scum” on Twitter.
She said her Twitter feed typically involves “helping kids with maths homework, rude words on Countdown, and talking about Man United,” but decided to get involved in the summer.
“There were just more and more negative stories about Jews,” she told the Channel 4 podcast. “They were either victims, or grasses, or smearers, or complainers, just negative things.”
She said the word ‘breadline’ came up on the show and she remembered the story of how the word came into being (a Jewish baker in New York who gave bread to the poor, who quickly flocked to his bakery, forming a line) and tweeted it, adding the sardonic comment: “Bloody Jews again.”
Riley, a non-religious Jew from Essex, said she got called an “antisemite” for that tweet, by people who misunderstood the meaning behind it and who didn’t know she was Jewish. “It taught me that people don’t read anything before they call you an antisemite, and it taught me that people don’t understand antisemitism.”
While describing herself as non-political, she said she was offended by graffiti on posters around London calling Israel a “racist endeavour,” and posted another tweet highlighting what she said Jeremy Corbyn was inspiring. “The level of vitriol I got from that was shocking,” she told the podcast.
Riley said her Jewish identity was now developing, and quoted Dame Margaret Hodge, suggesting that Corbyn has brought this to the fore, before being asked to explain the nub of her concern.
“It’s this mistaken belief that you can say anything you like about Israel, Zionists, Jews, which are often mixed up,” she said, fighting back the tears. “We’re having to say over and over again that you can criticise Israel, of course you can, plenty of Jews do so, the same way I can criticise what the UK Government does, but you don’t hate everyone in England for what the Government does. It’s insane.”