Sunday Times antisemitism row: Vanessa Feltz ‘extremely upset’

Paper under fire over column that suggested the BBC Radio London presenter and Claudia Winkleman were well paid because they are Jewish

Vanessa Feltz has said she felt “extremely upset” by a Sunday Times column written by a Holocaust denier [the columnist, Kevin Myers, contests this description: see footnote] which suggested that she and Claudia Winkleman earned high salaries because they are Jewish. The Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper was accused of antisemitism and faced a barrage of criticism after it published the article by Kevin Myers online and in its Irish print edition. The online version was later taken down.

Under the headline “Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned”, Myers 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.”

Speaking on her BBC Radio London breakfast show, Feltz described the column as “so obviously racist it’s surprisingly hurtful”.

She said: “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?”

The column was published in the wake of a row over the gender pay gap at the BBC, exposed by salary figures published by the broadcaster this month. The paper’s editor, Martin Ivens, said the piece should not have been published, and later added that Myers would not write again for the Sunday Times Ireland.

Winkleman, a regular Sunday Times columnist who writes weekly in the Style supplement, is yet to respond.

Myers’ column continued: “Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.

“I wonder, who are their agents? If they’re the same ones that negotiated the pay for the women on the lower scales, then maybe the latter have found their true value in the marketplace.”

Of the Holocaust, Myers has previously written in the Irish Independent: “There was no holocaust (or Holocaust, as my computer software insists) and six million Jews were not murdered by the Third Reich. These two statements of mine are irrefutable truths.” [See footnote.]

Sunday’s column provoked immediate fury. The Campaign Against Antisemitism announced that it would report the paper to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso). It said in a statement: “It is clear that Kevin Myers should not have been invited to write for the Sunday Times, and his editors should never have allowed the article to be published.”

Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, described the piece as “undiluted antisemitism and misogyny”, while the former Europe minister Denis MacShane said the comments were “truly shameful”.

Danny Cohen, the former director of BBC television, called on the Sunday Times to prevent Myers from writing for any News UK paper ever again.

The editor of the paper’s Irish edition, Frank Fitzgibbon, said: “I apologise unreservedly for the offence caused by comments in a column written by Kevin Myers and published today in the Ireland edition of the Sunday Times. It contained views that have caused considerable distress and upset to a number of people.

“As the editor of the Ireland edition, I take full responsibility for this error of judgment. This newspaper abhors antisemitism and did not intend to cause offence to Jewish people.”

However, the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland defended Myers, saying he had “inadvertently stumbled into an antisemitic trope”. The organisation said there had been “knee-jerk responses from those outside Ireland” over Myers’ comments. In a statement, it continued: “It is understandable that there is a strong response to, and rejection of, Kevin Myers’ article, but it is wrong that misconceptions and misinformation be circulated about his previous writings.

“Kevin Myers inadvertently stumbled into an antisemitic trope. Yes, Kevin ought to have known that his bringing the religion of the two BBC presenters into his writings on Sunday would cause concern and upset and that it was both unnecessary and bound to be misunderstood.”

The organisation added: “But the larger picture is that Kevin, who up until now was a respected columnist, has a particular curmudgeonly, cranky, idiosyncratic style. We, who have been reading Kevin’s work over many years and those who know him personally, know that while this was a real error of judgment on his part, also know that he is not an antisemite.”

• Note added 18 August 2017 - Kevin Myers says he is not a Holocaust denier. He is not, in the usual sense of that term. He expressed his idiosyncratic view in the Belfast Telegraph of 6 March 2009: “...there certainly was no holocaust. For if the word is to have any literal validity at all, it must be related to its actual meaning, which comes from the Greek words holos, ‘whole’, and caust, ‘fire’. Most Jewish victims of the Third Reich were not burnt in the ovens in Auschwitz. They were shot by the hundreds of thousands in the Lebensraum of the east, or were worked or starved to death in a hundred other camps, across the Reich.... To be sure, you can use the term holocaust to describe these events, but only as a metaphor. However, to turn that metaphor into a political dogma, a denial of which can result in imprisonment, is to create a religio-penal code of which Torquemada would have approved....I’m a holocaust denier; but I also believe that the Nazis planned the extermination of the Jewish people, as far as their evil hands could reach.”


Jamie Grierson and Henry McDonald

The GuardianTramp

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