Actress and fitness studio owner, Kelechi Okafor, has dropped out of BBC Woman’s Hour, hanging up the telephone before going on air after finding out that the programme’s new host, Emma Barnett, planned to ask her questions about her defence of antisemitic comments by Reggie Yates, who apologised only once he had been caught out.
Ms Barnett had been approached by Twitter users, including journalists Rosa Doherty, who first discovered Ms Ofakor’s comments, and Adam Cailler, who tweeted Ms Barnett with Campaign Against Antisemitism’s reporting on Ms Ofakor.
Ms Okafor reportedly hung up on Ms Barnett during a conversation shortly before broadcasting was due to commence.
She had been invited onto the programme to speak about the #MeToo movement but Ms Barnett noticed the information from Campaign Against Antisemitism that had been sent to her about Ms Okafor. She was concerned that is Ms Okafor was to be on the programme, she must face questions about her past.
According to a string of angry tweets posted by Ms Okafor, Ms Barnett had been commenting about her without realising that Ms Okafor could hear her. Ms Okafor tweeted that she was “being talked about like a dickhead” and that it was “absolutely degrading and vile”. She then appeared to dismiss the entire matter as “other bs”.
Ms Barnett had brought up Ms Ofakor’s decision in 2017 to defend comments about Jews made by BBC presenter Reggie Yates in which he claimed that it was “great” that the young generation of grime music artists is not “managed by some random fat Jewish guy from north west London, they’re managed by their brethren”.
In a 24-minute podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud that has since been removed, Ms Okafor addressed Yates’ comments, remarking that she “had a huge problem with people apologising for things that they meant”, adding that Yates’ apology statement was “well-manicured”. She said that Yates’ comments were “not problematic”, that he was speaking “the truth”, and that the whole affair demonstrated “the power of a specific community”. Ms Okafor challenged whether these Jewish music managers really are from North West London, adding “I just want to know where the fallacy is”, and that “stereotypes are based on an element on truth”.
Ms Okafor then began describing how black entertainers had been “so short changed by the kind of people Reggie Yates describes”. She commented that “all sorts of ethnicities” can be capable of this but added “the fact is, these men has dominated the industry for decades [sic]” and are “taking most of the profits”. She claimed that black artists “are having to work [their] entire arse off while they’re keeping everything”. Ms Okafor remarked near the end of the podcast that grime, RnB, and hip-hop music have been “diluted” by these supposed Jewish music managers who “like blackness as long as it’s making them money”.
Ms Okafor also appeared to take umbrage at how the Holocaust receives public attention each year, but claimed that the legacy of slave trade was seemingly ignored. She described how these historical events are responsible for the “power dynamic” that she was discussing.
Ms Okafor then turned her attention to Harvey Weinstein, a Jewish figure in the entertainment industry who had recently been accused of sexual assault and rape, of which he has since been convicted. She remarked how accusations of inappropriate behaviour from the black actress Lupita Nyong’o were not taken seriously, but that “if you offend one of the more powerful sectors of the community, then off be with your head”. Ms Okafor claimed that what’s happening now is that “people are demanding their pound of flesh, and I am very specific about the reference I just made”. Ms Okafor mentioned how the phrase is linked to Shakespeare. The “pound of flesh” is a central plot device in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in which the antagonist Shylock is portrayed as a stereotypical money-grabbing Jew. Shylock has become synonymous with the antisemitic trope that Jews control money and the banks, and it appears that Ms Okafor explicitly intended this understanding.
Ms Okafor was not in the least apologetic about her comments in the podcast, saying that “if people don’t like what I said, they can drink some water and go to sleep”.
When approached privately by Ms Doherty, a journalist with the Jewish Chronicle, who first discovered the podcast, Ms Okafor responded via Twitter: “Hi @Rosa_Doherty thank you for your email regarding my podcast. I appreciate the time you took to reach out to me. What does the Jewish Chronicle do to tackle anti-blackness?”
In a statement about today’s incident, Ms Barnett said that she had raised the issue with her producers and Ms Okafor after being sent a “report of the transcript of what she had said on her podcast supporting antisemitic comments by Reggie Yates comments about Jewish male managers and profits. As Weinstein is also Jewish and was referenced as part of this same podcast, I was discussing with my producers the role of this guest in light of her allegedly antisemitic comments. Kelechi overheard that chat on our open Zoom link — with two minutes to airtime. I then directly talked to Kelechi about the allegations, standing by my queries, and said she could put her response across in the programme. She denied the allegations and hung up, choosing to no longer be part of the programme. I stand by my questions to my team and to Kelechi. I would have happily hosted her on the programme with a question on this issue.”
A BBC spokesman said: “During an off-air conversation ahead of the programme, Emma Barnett and the production team talked about a guest’s role in the discussion, and how to reflect some of the guest’s alleged previous comments and the issue of antisemitism as part of the Woman’s Hour discussion on the role of minority voices in the MeToo movement. This was also raised directly with the guest before going on air.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Whilst Kelechi Okafor clearly considers herself to be an activist against anti-black racism, we are not aware of her ever apologising for her appalling defence of the antisemitism of Reggie Yates, which we called out at the time. Emma Barnett was absolutely right to want to question her on the cause of her disgrace — indeed that is the only topic on which Ms Okafor should be interviewed on such a prestigious platform.”