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Why I needed to stand up against anti-Semitism

  • RachelRiley
British television presenter Rachel Riley speaks at the Holocaust Education Trust Reception in Westminster on Sunday about standing up to anti-Semitism. This is an edited version of what she said.
by RACHEL RILEY | Jan 31, 2019

If you told me this time last year that, come January 2019, I’d be standing in Parliament, addressing a room full of people at a Holocaust memorial event, describing the hideous abuse I’ve been receiving daily since I started speaking about the growing problem of anti-Semitism in the UK, I wouldn’t know where to begin with my incredulity.

My own identity as a Jew has been a confusing one. As I often joke, my mum’s Jewish, and my dad’s Man United, and we’ve worshipped far more often at the Theatre of Dreams than I’ve ever been to shul. But one part of my Jewish identity that forms part of my very being is the deep and irreparable sorrow I feel in relation to the Holocaust.

I’ve always known that in the lifetime of my own Jewish grandparents, it was enough for some to feel justified in carrying out unspeakable acts of inhumanity against them, like ripping babies out of mothers’ arms, and smashing them against walls.

I visited Auschwitz for the first time in November. Most memorable to me were the videos in the Shoah exhibition of normal looking people in the 1930s – Jews – having fun in swim suits on the beach, playing cricket, enjoying family together, who would soon be reduced to dust.

The enormous mountain of hair, including little girls’ plaits, some blonde, some brunette, tied neatly, presumably by their loving mothers, before they would have to say goodbye forever, with all that would be left of them, cut off to be made into fabric. I’ve never experienced the literal feeling of being emotionally punched in the stomach like I did standing by that display.

I’d never understood why they did this, nor did I try to get inside the mind-set of a Nazi, to empathise with their feelings, or work out why anyone could ever think this was “noble”.

I thought all Jew-haters were like them, loud and proud, and acting through irrational hate which could neither be explained nor understood – and I also thought that that the horrors of the Holocaust would mean that anti-Semitism would never rear its ugly head again.

Sadly, I was wrong on both counts.

I first started following the story of anti-Semitism in Labour after the protest outside Parliament in March last year. I started listening, and I started reading. And, the more I read, the more shocked I became.

At first it was just online. Rothschild bankers here, Holocaust revision there, but gradually I began to see the ripple effects from this undercurrent of anti-Semitism appearing in places I would never have expected.

I finally broke my silence when a number of bus stops in London, the city where I live, were plastered with “Israel is a Racist Endeavour” posters – a reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s attempt to omit parts of the IHRA’s (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s) definition of anti-Semitism.

Knowing how decimating the Holocaust was in the years immediately preceding Israel’s inception, and the desperate plight of people forced to flee somewhere, anywhere, to safety, and how often they were refused and turned away, I found this description deeply offensive.

Without irony, I’m shown just how little many people understand about anti-Semitism, simultaneously denying any evidence of it whilst actively participating in it. Vilifying me, the Jew, for calling it out, as a paid Israeli shill, angrily comparing Israel to Nazis, or classing me as “Zionist racist scum” in response to me posting about anything but the subject of Israel and Palestine.

On Twitter, the messages I’m sent are often indistinguishable from that which you’d expect from a Neo-Nazi, yet the tweeters are identifiably not Neo-Nazis. The markers of the red Labour rose, coupled with the Palestine flag and the hashtags #GettheToriesOut and #JC4PM along with the standard claim to be “against racism in all forms” are their signature giveaways.

If I had a penny for every cry of, “Where’s your evidence” at the bottom of a whole thread of evidence, I’d be as rich as the so-called Rothschild bankers they hate so much.

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

After I used the recent anniversary of my 10 years as Countdown’s numbers lady as an opportunity to give this topic a bigger platform with an on-camera interview, an 11 500-word article was written with the sole intention of discrediting the many brave and dedicated people standing up to anti-Semitism. I can only describe this article as A-grade conspiracy garbage

Subsequently, rewarded for his efforts, the author of this article tweeted delightedly to have been followed on Twitter by both Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby. (I remain unfollowed by them.) On my birthday, I was shown a tweet from Karl Hansen, political advisor to Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald, which told his followers how I “smear my political opponents”, boost troll accounts, and don’t stand up to bullying – I am a bully.

This is the tactic used over and over again against Jews – and indeed anyone speaking out against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The victim becomes the aggressor, and the aggressor becomes the wronged-party. It’s gas-lighting. They can’t attack the facts, so they attack the messenger.

I’ve had to do so much research and learning to even begin to have the tools to fight this. It pains me to revisit these atrocities, it tires me, it angers me, but knowledge and truth are our only weapons. If I can do this in just a couple of months, there is no excuse for any Labour official not to take-up the same kind of learning themselves, when they clearly still haven’t got to grips with understanding this problem.

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 in order to combat it. The odds are stacked in the anti-Semite’s favour.

We need to re-stack those odds. No-one should have to risk their safety and jeopardise their career speaking out against anti-Semitism in Britain in 2019.

I call on all people, the media and politicians from every side, to stand with us, and Be Louder against anti-Semitism.

Enough is enough.

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