Hacking off Hackney voters

The practice of supporting Charedi local councillors only on narrow communal grounds is selfish and dangerous


Three weeks ago on this page, I addressed a serious communal problem, namely the tendency of our Charedi brethren to put their own interests above everything else. Citing several recent new stories, I referred to the seeming inability or unwillingness of Charedim "to consider their needs in the context of the needs of the wider society of which they are part."

I clearly touched a nerve. Several Charedi spokespersons contacted me to express their extreme displeasure at what I had written. A critical letter from no less a grandee than Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, leading publicist for the Stamford Hill set, was printed in the JC. And I was the recipient of a broadside from Alex Strom, resident polemicist of the Jewish Tribune, the March 18 issue of which carried an entire treatise by him inspired - it would appear -by my JC remarks.

But I was also contacted by persons - Jewish and non-Jewish - less ill-disposed towards me and towards what I had written.

For the benefit of those who do not read the Tribune, after the customary personal attack on me (which must have been pre- approved by the Tribune's resident rabbinical censors), Mr Strom contrasted the political clout undoubtedly wielded by the Hackney Charedim with the relative powerlessness of those residing in Barnet.

Jews voting for fellow Jews irrespective of merit is a major trigger of anti-Jewish prejudice

Strom attributed this to "frum councillors [who] are principally one issue candidates" in Hackney, and who see their overriding duty as being "to represent the interests of the haimishe ratepayers who voted them into their office.

"That is not to say" - Mr Strom thought it prudent to add - "that they do not represent wider community interests."

Perish the thought! But "they leave, however, little room for any doubt why they stood for election and what they see as their duty." And that duty, opined Mr Strom, is to advance the "haimishe tzibur", the Charedi communal agenda.

For those who don't know him, I should point out that Alex Strom is not without a certain talent, and it may come as a surprise to him (whether pleasant or otherwise I know not) to know that I think that, in this instance, he was broadly correct. Indeed, it may come as a further surprise to him to realise that I had foretold this future - certainly as far as Hackney is concerned - in a book, (The Jewish Community in British Politics) published 27 years ago.

There, noting the political impact of Agudas Yisroel in the borough, I pointed to unmistakable evidence of Orthodox Jews voting for fellow Orthodox Jews in local elections. Elsewhere, I have actually paid tribute to Agudas Yisroel, in Hackney, for knowing which political buttons to press, how hard and in what order, so as to get its business done in the Hackney council chamber.

This may be good for Agudas Yisroel. It may be good for the Hackney branches of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. It may be good for Alex Strom. But is it good for the Jews?

I pose this question because there is strong evidence that it is not.

A Hackney resident has brought to my attention an interview (March 11) with the current (and first directly-elected) mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, recorded on a website devoted to Hackney politics.

This ranged widely over local issues, one of which was the rarity of Charedi candidates standing against each other. Another related to an incident a year ago in which it was alleged that a charedi councillor abused his position to further what Mr Strom would doubtless call the haimishe tzibur.

The mayor naturally tiptoed gently around this allegation (which the councillor has denied) but he did go out of his way to condemn "communalism". He defined this as people voting "for candidates from their own community for that reason alone and not on merit". This can reasonably be extended to elected councillors acting primarily in their own sectarian religious interests.

This is precisely what Strom and his disciples appear to want. To him and to them, I therefore issue this warning: Jewish "communalism" is a major trigger of anti-Jewish prejudice. It may look clever but its victories, purchased at a high price, are invariably short-lived.

    Last updated: 4:51pm, May 21 2010

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