Life & Culture

Countdown star Rachel Riley: ‘I hide my Star of David when I don't feel safe'

The TV celebrity says she conceals her Jewish identity in certain situations


TV personality Rachel Riley has spoken of how she uses a reversible Star of David pendant to hide her Jewish identity in situations which “don’t feel safe”.

The Countdown presenter, who has been the target of vicious antisemitic trolling, was addressing an audience of women last week at the HerSpace festival.

“I have a Magen David my husband gave me which spins round,” she told them. “I can show the star when I feel safe and spin it round when I don’t.”

Riley — an outspoken critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Labour antisemitism when he was party leader — said she had grown up knowing about the Holocaust.

“I knew what happened when people stayed silent.

“Because I was a mainstream person, I could access mainstream people so it was a conscious decision [to fight antisemitism].”

She said that she recently refused to take part in a pilot for a comedy panel show after one of the comedians had “compared Israel to North Korea”.

Riley was speaking on a panel on raising Jewish women’s voices also including journalist Suzanne Baum and Sky News editor Sandy Rashty, chaired by the JC’s managing editor Keren David. The JC was the festival’s media partner.

Baum spoke about her fear of antisemitism at her sons’ universities. “I wondered if they should be wearing their Magen Davids.”

When interviewing, however, “I love telling celebrities I’m Jewish”. She could recall only one incident of antisemitism. “I was interviewing someone and their mother was there. The mum said: ‘How can you be Jewish and have blonde hair, blue eyes and not have a big nose’?’”

Rashty comes from an Iraqi background and said that in her job it was sometimes “hard for people to understand that I could have Jewish, Arab and British [identities].”

HerSpace attracted over 500 women to its Hendon venue and was hailed a huge success by organisers and Jewish Women’s Aid, its charity partner.

“The energy was buzzing; it was electric”, said committee head Michelle Stimler Morris. “There was such a wide variety of people there.”

Nearly £30,000 was raised for JWA from ticket sales, a raffle and from vendors donating a percentage of their profits. Money was also generated from the sale of artwork inspired by JWA case studies.

Representatives of JWA, supporting women and children affected by domestic and sexual violence, gave talks throughout the day.

Morris told the JC: “What was incredible about partnering with JWA was that we took a taboo subject and normalised talking about the issue.”

JWA trustees’ chair Caroline Ratner added: “Michelle and her team of volunteers created an extraordinary day celebrating female empowerment and creativity. We are so honoured that HerSpace chose us to be their charity partner for this year’s event.”

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