The already surreal world of social media took a bizarre turn on Wednesday when the maths whizz from Countdown told a former MP – who once pretended to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother – to “fuck off” on Twitter.
But how did this happen, we hear you ask. For the uninitiated, here’s a quick introduction to our two protagonists, and an explanation of the row so far...
Occupation: Television presenter
Known for: Being the brainbox who took over Carol Vorderman’s role on the Channel 4 quiz show, Countdown.
She has also presented Friday Night Football on Sky Sports.
Political views: Riley describes herself as a “non-religious Jew”. Politically, she has said: “I don’t have any party loyalties.”
Occupation: Television presenter and former MP for Bradford West.
Known for: Aside from the aforementioned cat incident, Galloway currently makes a living by presenting shows on Kremlin-backed media channels such as RT and Sputnik.
He has been accused of being a “conspiracy theorist” and of being a “western puppet for tyranny’s propagandists”. He has repeatedly condemned the policies of the Israeli government towards Palestinians, calling it an “apartheid state”.
Political views: Galloway is a Labour supporter and long-time associate of Jeremy Corbyn.
He campaigned for for Brexit in the EU referendum.
What’s the beef?
Although the row between Riley and Galloway has blown up spectacularly in the last few days, its roots go back a little further to last year, when she became vocal on the issue on anti-semitism in the Labour party after seeing a protest outside Parliament in 2018.
Riley, who is Jewish, has been critical of the Jeremy Corbyn whose party has been accused of racism, and has used her considerable social media presence to highlight examples of alleged racism among Labour supporters.
Corbyn has denied allegations of anti-semitism and spoke of his “pain” at being called a anti-semite.
In September, Riley said she has been called a “Tory, brainwashed and thick” after she tweeted two screenshots, one showing London mayor Sadiq Khan wishing Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah, and another which alleged Corbyn praised an activist who called for Israeli MPs to be assassinated.
In a Channel 4 News interview aired on Wednesday, Riley said: “I had moments where my jaw was on the floor at the Holocaust denial and all the old-fashioned anti-Semitic tropes.”
Referring to Corbyn, she added: “He has chaired an event on holocaust memorial day, called ‘Never Again From Auschwitz to Gaza’, he has shared platforms with terrorists, and the debate about who’s a terrorist comes up but they’re classified as a terrorist by the US by the UK by the EU.
“He’s sharing platforms with these people, he’s giving a legitimate voice to holocaust denial. Surely you can have compassion and fight for the Palestinian cause without sharing your bed with holocaust deniers and virulent anti-Semites.”
What’s Galloway’s issue?
Many Corbyn supporters, including Galloway, say the entire anti-Semitism row is part of a coordinated campaign to smear Corbyn.
Some have even suggested it is being run by the Israeli government as part of a “campaign of psychological warfare”.
According to Galloway, the smear campaign is being propagated by numerous people including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, BBC comedians such as Frankie Boyle and David Baddiel, the “weaponised British media”, the Jewish media, Labour MP Stella Creasy and the “dark state”.
And now, it seems, Rachel Riley, after her long-standing practise of tweeting examples of alleged anti-semitism among Labour members prompted him to respond.
So what did he say?
Galloway accused Riley of calling the Jewish scholar, Noam Chomsky, an anti-semite while also suggesting she had “slandered half the Labour party as the same”.
Galloway appears to have been referring to an earlier tweet from Riley in which she highlighted Chomsky’s apparent promotion of a Holocaust denier.
How did she respond?
Swiftly and without mincing her words, telling him to “fuck off” in a tweet on Wednesday.
She followed this up by calling Galloway “antisemite scum”.
How have people reacted?
Since the incident Riley has been inundated with abuse, much of which is from apparent Corbyn supporters. She has continued to document it on her Twitter feed.
A story also appeared on the pro-Corbyn blog Skwakbox, claiming she “has been meeting Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg privately for talks about a potential political future for the celebrity”.
Riley has denied the unsubstantiated claim.
But Riley has also been swamped with supportive messages, according to an interview with Lorraine Kelly on Thursday morning.
She said: “I can’t thank people enough for seeing through the lies. The attempts to discredit are elaborate.
“I’m hoping I have banked up enough credibility with people that know me for silly words and putting up pictures of cats and dogs to know this is a serious thing for me. It needs a bit of light shone on it.”
And on Thursday afternoon, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry tweeted to say: ”When someone like
@RachelRileyRR speaks out about her real concerns over anti-semitism on the left, even if people dispute some of her specific assertions, the only fit response is to listen, understand, and tackle the root problem.
“It is not to hurl abuse or impugn her motives.”