EXCLUSIVE: JC brings Azeem Rafiq face-to-face with Holocaust survivor

The Yorkshire cricketer, whose past anti-Jewish comments were revealed this week, also handled a Nazi-era yellow star and toured Camden Jewish Museum


UNITED KINGDOM, London: 25 November 2021 Former Yorkshire County Cricket Club player Azeem Rafiq meets Holocaust survivor Ruth Barnett at The Jewish Museum in North London earlier this afternoon.

Former Yorkshire and England spin bowler Azeem Rafiq has had a heart-to-heart with a Holocaust survivor and handled a Nazi-era yellow star at a meeting hosted by the JC.

Mr Rafiq, whose past anti-Jewish comments were revealed this week, also met a representative of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) as he was taken on a tour of the Jewish Museum in Camden, London.

The meeting was set up by the JC to help educate Mr Rafiq about British Jewry and the history of persecution, after he blamed his antisemitic comments on a lack of exposure to Jewish people.

Holocaust survivor Ruth Barnett MBE, 86, who came to Britain from Berlin on a Kindertransport train in 1939 at the age of four, told the cricketer:

“Humanity seems to need someone to blame and hate. Jews have always been used as the constant scapegoat. Blame the Jews.

“It’s a convenient way to get rid of your own feelings, to dump them on the Jews. But when you actually meet some, it brings you up short.”

Mr Rafiq replied: “I just feel that if I had more interaction with Jewish people, I wouldn’t have made those comments. It feels like we just don’t get around the same table together enough. Today I’m learning things I never knew.”

Mrs Barnett responded: “I’ve said nasty things about people. We all have. We all have flaws. It can be very difficult to forgive yourself. The important thing is to take the opportunity to learn.”

The ex-cricketer – who has since faced accusations that a mobile number belonging to him sent sexual messages to a teenage girl – was awarded £200,000 by Yorkshire County Cricket Club to settle an employment tribunal after he launched a high-profile campaign to expose “institutional racism” at the club.

He accused former England captain Michael Vaughan, 47, of saying “there’s too many of you lot” – in reference to four players of Asian descent in the Yorkshire team – at a game in 2009, two years before Mr Rafiq himself made the antisemitic comments.

As a result, Mr Vaughan has been dropped from the BBC’s coverage of this year’s Ashes cricket tour, despite “categorically” denying the allegations made by the former spin bowler and insisting that his reputation is being “trashed unfairly”.

When asked by the JC whether the former England captain deserved a second chance and should be reinstated at the BBC, Mr Rafiq said:

“I don’t hold a grudge against anyone and I believe everyone deserves a second chance.”

Addressing Mr Vaughan’s insistence that he was not racist, and that the alleged remark was made 11 years ago, the former spin bowler added:

“It was just a comment. He’s probably forgotten it now, since it didn’t affect him. It wasn’t malicious.”

The cricket star then took part in an ‘object handling’ session, during which he was able to hold artefacts including a Nazi-era passport with the red ‘J’ stamp for Jews, and a genuine yellow star.

He reacted with astonishment when shown a section of the museum devoted to Indian Jews. “I never knew there were Jews in Mumbai,” he said. “My dad was in Mumbai before the partition.
“It just shows you can know very little but have big opinions.”

Stephen Silverman, the Director of Investigations and Enforcement at the CAA, was also present at the museum. He told Mr Rafiq of his own experiences of being teased and insulted as a child because he was Jewish.

“It was always two things, either ‘you killed Christ’ or comments about Jews and money,” he said. “The word ‘Jew’ used as an insult was a constant soundtrack.

“Forty years later, my daughter joined the same school. And she experienced exactly the same antisemitism.”

He then explained to the cricketer why Jews have historically associated with moneylending, and why Mr Rafiq’s own comments had been so hurtful.

“Racism can be subtle and discreet. It breaks you slowly,” the cricketer replied. “I was constantly asking myself if I was being too sensitive, if it was only a joke.

“Now that I’ve learned about the history of my comments, I understand the hurt and I’m really sorry to the Jewish community.”

The JC quizzed Mr Rafiq on his attitudes towards Israel and Palestine, in the light of his public support for Gaza during the conflict in May.

Writing on Twitter, the former Yorkshire and England star used the hashtags #StandwithPalestine and #FreeGaza, though he made no mention of the rockets targeting Israeli civilians.

Mr Rafiq told the JC: “If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t know much about the Israel-Palestine situation. I think – like loads of people on both sides of this argument – that the two state solution seems sensible.

“But I’m not an expert. I don’t really know much about it and I probably should have tried to know more before I commented on things.”

He added: “Does Israel have a right to exist, and to defend itself? Yes. Like I said, the two state solution seems the most sensible thing all round. I genuinely don’t have much more knowledge on the situation.”

Today, the former cricket star had lunch with Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust (CST), during which they discussed the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Frances Jeens, the Interim Director of the Jewish Museum showed him round the museum’s four permanent galleries, showcasing the vibrancy of Jewish life in Britain, including a recreation of London’s East End and rare examples of Jewish ceremonial art.

Last week, the Times revealed antisemitic messages sent in 2011 by Mr Rafiq to another player, Atif Sheikh, whom he had been criticising for not paying a dinner bill, writing: “Hahaha he is a Jew… Only Jews do that sort of sh**.”

Writing a column exclusively for the JC this week, the cricket star, 30, emphasised that he had apologised unreservedly and did not want to “downplay” his own actions, but suggested that there were key differences between the racism he faced and that which he doled out.

“Clearly, the comments themselves were wrong, they were antisemitic,” he wrote. “But it’s not a view that I have any more. And to be honest, I don’t actually feel like I had those views back then, I think it’s just that I hadn’t integrated with the Jewish community much in the past.

“I didn’t realise what I was saying, more than anything else. But that doesn’t excuse what I did.”

Speaking to the JC on the evening of the revelations, the father-of-one, who opened a fish and chip shop in Barnsley this year, had said:

“The circumstances [of his antisemitic remarks compared to the racism he endured] do differ. I don’t think I’ve every played with anyone Jewish, so it was not exactly the same. But I don’t want to play it down. I’ve hurt people. My genuine feeling is that I deserve the flak. I f***ed up.”

He added: “I’m deeply sorry. I don’t recall making any other antisemitic remarks, but I’ll go back and think about it.

“People are going to go through my whole life looking for things I’ve done. I admit I’ve made mistakes.”
He declined to clarify whether the saw himself as part of the problem or part of the solution.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive