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Vanessa Feltz "gravely insulted me", says sacked Sunday Times columnist

Sacked journalist tells the JC he is not a "racist" and complains "irreversible damage" has been done to his reputation

    The Sunday Times journalist who was sacked for suggesting female BBC presenters Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman were well paid because they are Jewish has said he is "gravely insulted" by claims he is a "racist".

    Irish columnist Kevin Myers insisted he was "not inclined" to offer personal apologies to either of the two women  - citing the manner in which BBC Radio London host Ms Feltz had attacked him over his remarks after his column was published last Sunday.

    But Mr Myers did attempt to reassure the community of his long-held belief that the Jews were the "most admirable, talented people the world has produced".

    He claimed he had "made a wrong call" in writing the article and accepted his words were "what looked a like a return to the old tropes of the money-grasping Jew".

    Mr Myers agreed to speak to the JC three days after his column appeared in the Irish print edition of the newspaper and online - and which led to him to being fired within hours of its appearance.

    Under the headline “Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned”, he wrote: “I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them.”

    On Monday, as she arrived to present her Radio London breakfast show Ms Feltz described the column as “so obviously racist it’s surprisingly hurtful”.

    She added: “I would have thought after all these years I’d be immune or used to it, but that’s not at all how I felt. I felt extremely upset. The apologies are all very well, but how did it end up in the paper in the first place?”

    Mr Myers apologised during an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE but has made no direct contact with Ms Feltz or Ms Winkleman.

    Asked whether he now intended to apologise to the two women, he responded: "I don't want to give myself an absolute commitment because whereas I do understand their indignation, and righteous indignation, they have said things about me that are far sterner than I think I merited.

    "I think that Vanessa Feltz called me a racist. Calling me a racist? The Jewish community in Ireland has, as you know, said I am not antisemitic. I made a mistake - but I'm not an antisemite."

    He insisted that he had been "offended" by the "language" Ms Feltz and Ms Winkleman had used - although as yet Ms Winkleman hasn't commented on the affair - and refused to consider writing a letter of apology.

    He said: "I'm not inclined to do that - great damage has been done to me. Irreversible damage has been done to me and I'm going to suffer for the rest of my life.

    "Speaking as I think, and sometimes you can make the wrong noises, I have been gravely insulted by them.

    "A stigma has been placed on the name Kevin Myers which I don't deserve.

    "I'm not blaming them. It is what happened. No damage was done to them - irreversible damage was done to me.

    "The editor of the Sunday Times said I would never ever work for that newspaper."

    Mr Myers rejected any suggestion he was antisemitic, claiming he had "great admiration" for the Jewish people.

    He revealed that as a boy, he had pretended to be Jewish.

    "People used to ask when I was young about the name Myers, which they said was unusual," he revealed. "I would say, "That's because I'm half-Jewish. I'm not though. I just like the notion of being Jewish."

    When at the age of 11, he moved with his family from Ireland to Leicester, he met Jewish children for the first time at the local grammar school he attended.

    He said: "I didn't know Jews were living human beings. I thought they belonged to the Bible. My parents didn't discuss Jews, there wasn't any reason."

    Mr Myers said at school he looked up to "an artistic boy called Goldstein" although they never actually became friends.

    He said: "I met Jews and they were a little bit more watchful, a little bit more intelligent than the others boys around.

    "One of the reasons people do dislike Jews is because they are so talented. You know this?

    "You don't speak it, you don't say it - but you know it is true."

    At university, back in Dublin, Mr Myers said he become friendly with an Israeli-Iranian Jewish man who was "about 5 ft 4 and was by a wide margin the most successful man with women I ever saw."

    He also revealed that his first two serious relationships with women where with Jewish girls - "both of them American I should tell you."

    Despite what he had written in the Sunday Times, he said his regard for Jews was " not money, the issue is not money.

    "The issue is high achievement. It is making the most of your assets. That is why I respect these two women [Ms Feltz and Ms Winkleman]. They made the most of their assets."

    He went on to cite two Jewish concert violinist who had made a particular impression on him.

    "If you look at the musicians of the 20th century - the greatest musicians have been Jews. It is not money. For example David and Igor Oistrakh, I regard them as the greatest violinists of the 20th century. There are many others and most are Jewish.

    "But the thing about becoming a classical violinist is it is not a way to make a lot of money.

    "What they had was an ability to speak to the human soul using two violins. That tells me something about the Jewish people. It is an examination of the soul to understand human nature.

    "When they play these instruments they are addressing all human beings."

    Mr Myers stressed his admiration for Jews did not derive from "sentimentality" and was not to an attempt to "impress" the Jewish media.

    He said: "If you deduct Jews from the history of the human race you have a vastly impoverished species - without the mathematics, without the science, without the industry, without the literature."

    He admitted he had made errors in the way he had written about Jews, describing the column as "poorly constructed".

    "If you are going to deal with an issue like Jews in the media - how successful are they, how successful are they not, then it's a serious work it itself," he said.

    "Don't do it with a throwaway aside. And that was one of my basic mistakes."

    Mr Myers said when he first alerted to the outrage caused by the article by his page editor on Sunday morning: "I genuinely didn't know what the storm was about."

    He found out he had been sacked via his sister-in-law in Cumbria.

    "She had heard it on the BBC news while I was at a conference in Cork."

    Mr Myers said he did not respond to a text message from "somebody senior" at the Sunday Times until 1.30pm.

    "A chap I had never spoken to before said "sorry, we are not using you again."

    While at the conference in Cork, Mr Myers said he had bumped into Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who he said he "know personally."

    Mr Myers admitted: "I told her what I had said and she was very unhappy and she has repeated that on an interview on air on Irish radio. I hadn't got it - and I do now."

    It is not the first time Mr Myers's work has caused controversy.

    Eight years ago, in a column in the Irish Independent, he claimed it was an "irrefutable truth" that six million Jews had not been killed by the Nazis.

    The article, which led to claims Mr Myers was a Holocaust denier, was not removed from the paper's website until Sunday.

    "I constructed it poorly and the headline was terrible," he explained.

    Mr Myers said he had written the piece to question a law which makes it illegal to question the validity of claiming exactly six million Jews died in the Shoah, while allowing Islamic extremists to do exactly the same thing in the name of religion.

    "Muslims, Islamists whatever you want to call them, can say what they hell they like about Jews also Christians, but most of all Jews," he said.

    "We are moving to a grave crisis in Europe, no we are in a great crisis and its an existential crisis for Judeo-Christian values."

    Mr Myers revealed he has been heartened by the backing he has received since Sunday from Maurice Cohen, chair of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland.

    In a statement issued on Monday, Mr Cohen said was not antisemitic and had “inadvertently stumbled into an antisemitic trope”.

    Mr Myers said he was "proud" of just how many Irish Jews have contacted him since the column was published.

    "I can't tell you how proud I am that people understood this was an error and they have forgiven me," he said.

    And in a defiant parting shot, he said: "I'm not a racist, I know what I am."

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