Rachel Riley: Armies of hate-filled bigots strengthened my resolve to fight hate

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Rachel Riley: Armies of hate-filled bigots strengthened my resolve to fight hate

Countdown TV host spoke at the 6th annual J100 event alongside renowned actor Sir Ben Kingsley, where she was recognised for her fight against antisemitism

Countdown star Rachel Riley. Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire
Countdown star Rachel Riley. Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire

TV presenter and campaigner against antisemitism Rachel Riley, spoke at Algemeiner’s J100 gala, where she received the US paper’s illustrious ‘Warrior for Truth’ award.

The Countdown host addressed the New York event on Thursday, picking up the prestigious gong alongside British actor Sir Ben Kingsley.

Billed as the Jewish answer to the TIME 100 gala, past honourees and participants have included Elie Wiesel, Michael Gove, Donald Trump, and Bernard-Henri Levy.

Riley was honoured for taking on antisemites in wake of the Labour antisemitism row, using her public profile to call out hate. She has recently helped set up a campaign against abuse online, called ‘Don’t Fed The Trolls’, and the ‘Stop Funding Fake News’ initiative, against media organisations which deny or downplay antisemitism.  

Read Rachel’s full address to the J100 Gala here:

Rachel Riley (Credit: Yakir Zur)

It’s probably the biggest honour of my life to be here with you today. I am here because of something that started for me, a year ago. Back then, I was just a maths geek, a Manchester United fan and daytime TV gameshow host.

A secular, atheist Jew.

Social media was a great way to connect with people. It helped me promote the things I cared about: education, getting more girls into STEM subjects, and frequently, my favourite football team. But watching the news one day, I saw something really peculiar.

British Jews protesting in Parliament Square against the growing rise in antisemitism.

At first I thought this can’t be real.

Antisemitism wasn’t a “thing” anymore, was it?

Just a relic of the past?

If the horrors of the Holocaust had taught us anything, it’s where Jew-hate can lead, and as such that terrible lesson for humanity had meant it could now only exist in the nasty fringes of society.

Around 1,500 were estimated to have turned up to say no to antismitism in Westminster for Enough is Enough

But then over the coming weeks and months, I noticed more and more evidence of unchecked, un-nuanced waves of hostility towards Jews, Judaism and Jewishness.

The people who were bringing this back, with outlandish Rothschild conspiracies and Holocaust ‘revisionism’, were not the antisemites I was familiar with. Not Nazis, not skinheads, not members of the Ku Klux Klan.

They were party officials in my country, in the largest political party in Europe.

They were local government politicians.

They were Members of Parliament.

They were retired schoolteachers and people who run charity shops and promote the sales of fair-trade bananas.

They were overwhelmingly left-wing.

Most of them call themselves, even define themselves, as anti-racist.

Concerned, disturbed and distressed, I knew I needed to speak out, but I had a huge obligation to do so responsibly, and accurately. So first, I needed to educate myself.

I read articles, books, watched videos, took Yad Vashem’s online antisemitism course, and went to Auschwitz.

I spoke to experts, to Jewish groups, to Labour Party members and MPs, who were also attempting to combat what they saw was an increasingly worrying problem.

They’d been trying, at great personal cost, to raise awareness and stem this tide. With my platform, I knew my voice could reach where theirs couldn’t. I couldn’t let them do this alone, I couldn’t be a bystander.

I was attacked from the get-go.

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

I’ve become used to being called everything from a white supremacist to a child abuser, and the irony of being told I’m a liar, making up claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party, by its very supporters who simultaneously accuse me of being a terrorist-sympathising-Zionist-shill intent on murdering children, is not lost on me.

Their approach backfired. The armies of hate-filled bigots trying to silence and intimidate me, only proved to strengthen my resolve to stand up and be counted against hate.

Others in this fight, saw me standing up. They told me their stories; the personal impact of antisemitism. The pain, the fear of being targeted by trolls for abuse.

People who have had their livelihoods ruined; their homes attacked. They were so grateful to have an ally’s voice that it took me aback. I knew then I needed to earn that level of gratitude, that I hadn’t yet done enough to help.

Their stories inspired me.

Jews, Christians, Muslims. People of all faiths and people of none. Even football team loyalties were set aside for the sake of this common cause!

And here’s what I concluded.

In the face of hate, there is a moral duty to act.

I have a voice and I am going to use it.

But I also have a brain too. I’m going to use everything I have.

We must speak out.

If we’re quiet, the conversation is by default dominated by extremists.

We have to speak with intelligence.

And not in ways that compound the evil, give it new life and amplify it, or lend it credibility. To engage directly with them, to enter into Twitter back and forths, I’ve learned, at times to my cost, simply amplifies and legitimises their voices.

I will not give them a megaphone.

Rachel Riley taking on the antisemitic Twitter trolls through Twitter

Instead, I’ll seek to inoculate, the many, against the few liars and extremists who seek to define Jews as underhand political operators, working covertly against all that is good and just in the world.

It’s a painful inversion of the reality I know, where Jews have stood at the forefront of civil rights, human rights and the rights of minorities to seek safe haven and refuge from hate – often from having experienced a lack of these things ourselves, even in our own recent family histories.

I’m supporting a Bill in the UK Parliament that would make administrators of social media forums, such as Facebook groups, filled not just with hate speech, but also with fake cures for autism that physically harm young children, with material that incites violence against women, against Muslims, indeed against any group they seek to target with their bile, to make them civilly and criminally liable for the content they recklessly allow to be published there.

Through a UK based campaign called Stop Funding Fake News, I’m standing up against Fake News outlets, whose racist lies are shaping the knowledge, values and belief systems of their often large online readerships. The campaign has already forced one antisemitic news site to downsize from 22 to 7 staff, and seen 3 far-right sites declare themselves ad-free, as their ad-funded misinformation business models have crumbled.

I will speak out.

I will box smart.

I will align myself with the good guys – standing with those who stand up against the pernicious misuse of modernity to re-energise the oldest of hatreds.

I’ve made a commitment to do one thing above all else.

I’ll not cower in the face of hate.

I had believed a lie.

The idea that antisemitism was dead.

The idea that angry, hateful voices no longer win large numbers of hearts and minds.

The day that I saw the news of Jewish people having to once again take a stand against the world’s oldest hatred, set me on a path that changed me to who I am today.

I’m still an atheist, secular Jew.

Still a maths geek who presents a TV show.

I’m still a devoted Man United fan, even if we keep losing!

But now I’m one who actively fights hate.

And I’ll continue to fight it, from this day, till my last.

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