Rachel Riley’s wrongheaded accusations of anti-Semitism should disqualify her from mainstream politics

Happier days: We all enjoyed this kind of political comment from Rachel Riley (referring to a certain claim about former Tory prime minister David Cameron).

Countdown brainbox Rachel Riley isn’t so clever when it comes to the facts about anti-Semitism, it seems.

She seems to have fallen under the influence of some highly unpleasant characters who have been mixing false and real accusations of anti-Semitism in order to achieve deeply dubious political ends. Mostly, it seems, they want to legitimise the racist, apartheid behaviour of Israel’s Likud government and undermine anybody who speaks out against it.

If you have been following the ongoing saga of the false anti-Semitism accusations against me, you’ll only have to visit Ms Riley’s Twitter feed to know who I mean.

If you haven’t: I was accused of anti-Semitism over articles I wrote about comments by Labour MP Naz Shah and then-prominent Labour member Ken Livingstone, referring to Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which happened in 2014. Her comments about it were raised two years later by a rabid right-wing blog, in an attempt to discredit the Labour Party, and Mr Livingstone was accused after he commented on her.

The accusations against me led to news stories in five national papers. None of the claims about me in those papers were accurate and all five have been ordered to publish corrections (the last should be appearing in the next edition of The Sunday Times).

False accusations of this kind not only have the potential to be extremely damaging to a person’s reputation and career, they are also offensive on a personal level. People who would never consider criticising others on the basis of their religion or ethnicity – some of whom are themselves members of often-persecuted minorities – have found themselves witch-hunted, often with the only evidence against them being that “someone was upset by something they said”.

(That was the evidence against me, by the way. Nothing I wrote in my investigation of Ms Shah and Mr Livingstone breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism. The only evidence against me was an unsupported claim that I had upset an unnamed person.)

And a false accusation against a named person encourages the easily-led to victimise that person.

This is what happened to a teenage girl, with anxiety issues, who spoke out against the fake accusations late last year. Somehow Ms Riley saw the comments and denounced their author, who was promptly dogpiled by Ms Riley’s followers (and, no doubt, the followers of her friends – the politically-motivated demonisers I’ve mentioned above).

Dogpiling on the social media happens when a person writes something that another person (usually one with influence, like Ms Riley) decides is offensive and responds accordingly – triggering a serious of responses from their followers beyond any reasonable time limit. They do this because they see the offender as an easy target and consider attacking them to be a way to gain popularity points.

So yesterday, when it was suggested that Ms Riley was going to appear on the BBC’s Newsnight, discussing her approach to the anti-Semitism debate, you can imagine the effect on the teenager she had bullied:

Fortunately the programme’s producer was able to reassure the youngster that Ms Riley was not going to appear.

Instead, she has been on Channel 4 News, and had a spot on ITV’s Lorraine today (January 10).

The interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy exposed some of the faults in Ms Riley’s reasoning, as she invoked stereotypes that, if she saw someone else using them, she would condemn as anti-Semitic and denounce the person saying them as an anti-Semite.

Yes, using the term, “Bloody Jews again” does mean you’re an anti-Semite, if there’s such an intention behind it. Ms Riley’s problem – as you can see by the look on her face – is that she’s clear she didn’t mean it that way, but cannot distinguish whether other people are or are not.

And conflating all Jews with the nation of Israel, as Ms Riley does here, is also anti-Semitic. They are not the same and nobody should ever refer to them as such.

Many people have picked up on this – “I don’t look like a typical Jew”. Stereotyping Jews as having a particular appearance is classic anti-Semitism.

The simple fact is that Israel does exist and has a right to do so because it was brought into being by a decision of the United Nations. The problem is that the current government of Israel is racist and supports apartheid policies, but this should not be used to suggest that the nation itself should be dissolved. Of course Ms Riley should not be mixing reference to Israel with complaints about anti-Semitism in the UK – it is itself anti-Semitic to claim that Jews in this country have a disproportionate loyalty to that country.

Some of the people Ms Riley has denounced are themselves Jewish – the “wrong kind of Jew”, one must assume, referring back to a previous debate in which people claiming to represent Jews in the UK attacked other Jewish organisations that held different political beliefs.

One such claim was that the revered Jewish academic Noam Chomsky – I often use his comment about the tactics of privatisation – is an anti-Semite.

Part of this seems to be about the fact that Chomsky wrote the introduction to a piece by the late Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. It seems she claimed Chomsky was “promoting anti-Semitism”.

The blog Zelo Street puts Chomsky’s behaviour in its proper context: “Chomsky said of his introduction – the text is available online with very little searching required – “I made it explicit that I would not discuss Faurisson’s work, having only limited familiarity with it (and, frankly, little interest in it). Rather, I restricted myself to the civil-liberties issues and the implications of the fact that it was even necessary to recall Voltaire’s famous words in a letter to M. le Riche: ‘I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.’

He went on “Faurisson’s conclusions are diametrically opposed to views I hold and have frequently expressed in print … But it is elementary that freedom of expression … is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended. It is easy enough to defend those who need no defense or to join in unanimous … condemnation of a violation of civil rights by some official enemy”.

I raise this because it seems Ms Riley has been garnering support from showbusiness colleagues who have not realised what she has been saying – Stephen Fry being a prominent example. He said he was standing by her, as I understand it, in the belief that she was being bullied by others (as we have seen, the opposite is the case).

Let’s look at what happened when he was challenged by George Galloway, who has himself been accused of anti-Semitism by Ms Riley:

So Mr Fry, in reaffirming his support for Ms Riley, echoed Chomsky’s statement that “freedom of expression … is not to be restricted to views of which one approves”. Perhaps Ms Riley would be wise to take that on board.

Considering her failures with the teenager she bullied and with Chomsky, in the light of my experience of false accusation, and recognising the fact that she herself used anti-Semitic language in a television interview, perhaps Ms Riley should also remember the following:

The accusation of Jews as anti-Semites has hit a raw nerve. Harry Tuttle tweeted a lengthy thread demonstrating how they have been falsely accused. It makes for some horrifying reading:

















Considering all of the above – and the many other incidents I understand Ms Riley has initiated – I doubt I was the only person to be concerned when a rumour emerged that she was in discussion with Jacob Rees-Mogg, of all people, about a career in politics for the Conservative Party.

The possibility of Ms Riley using her popularity as a showbusiness personality to boost the Tories would be extremely unpalatable. Fortunately, it seems to be untrue:

I mention it because she needs to be held to this – at least until she gains a little more perspective.

It would be nice to believe Ms Riley’s assertion in the Channel 4 interview that she is a “nice person”. Until she started speaking out about anti-Semitism, I had always enjoyed her contributions to some of our favourite TV shows.

My impression is that her comments are influenced by the malign elements I mentioned at the top of this article.

My hope is that she will realise what they are – before she inadvertently does something that causes irreversible harm to her career. They won’t care.

Visit our JustGiving page to help Vox Political’s Mike Sivier fight anti-Semitism libels in court

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2 thoughts on “Rachel Riley’s wrongheaded accusations of anti-Semitism should disqualify her from mainstream politics

  1. Alas Poor Uric

    As a person of Jewish backround I am sick and tired of people like Ms. Riley pontificating about anti-semitism when they clearly have very limited knowledge of the Jewish Community, the diversity of opinion in it and the history of Zionism that has divided it.

    As Mike points out, she has clearly bought into antisemitic tropes herself!

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