On April 3, the Independent on Sunday ran a lurid story headlined Illegal Jewish schools: Government knew about council faith school cover-up as thousands of pupils 'disappeared'.
Apparently, the London borough of Hackney's education authority had blissfully co-operated, at the request of the schools concerned, in the destruction of evidence of Jewish youngsters being educated in these "illegal" establishments. Worse still, the Department for Education had been aware of this "problem" since 2010, but had done nothing about it. "An investigation by the Independent," the report continued, "also found that more than 1,000 children are missing from schools in London and are at risk of abuse in illegal faith schools. The schools are ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith schools at which boys receive no education beyond religious texts. A number leave school with little or no ability to speak English, and few qualifications or skills which equip them to work."
All this is true. But save for the section dealing with the alleged destruction of evidence (which is a serious matter) the report said nothing new.
This is what I wrote, in this column, on September 27, 2013:
"On January 18 2008, this newspaper [the JC] ran a leader drawing attention to the fact that 'many boys in the strictly Orthodox community are being systematically undereducated in secular studies' as a result of being placed surreptitiously in unregulated talmudical colleges."
Charedi Jews are, after all, voters and council-tax
A decade earlier, I had written thus: "In north London, and Gateshead, stories circulate of 'secret schools', to which sectarian Orthodox parents send their children for an education which is almost exclusively religious, claiming to the education authorities that they have sent their offspring abroad."
The Independent had stumbled upon an old story, to which it was able to add an important footnote regarding the alleged destruction of evidence, but to add some extra spice to the mixture it then referred vicariously to Jewish boys being "at risk of abuse."
Enter the National Secular Society's executive director Keith Porteous Wood and Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, self-appointed spokesperson of the Stamford Hill Charedim.
Interviewed on LBC radio about the Independent's story, Porteous Wood delivered a broadside against the "Jewish lobby" saying: "It's far worse than what you're reporting. The Jewish lobby allows the rule of law to be undermined. Whether we are talking about education or indeed, as is another open secret, effectively in places like Stamford Hill planning rules just don't apply. If the Jewish community wants to build and extend their houses, then they just get away with it."
Whereupon Pinter accused Porteous Wood of spreading a "classic antisemitic trope" and demanded his resignation.
I, too, believe Porteous Wood should resign. But not for the reason Pinter has advanced.
There can be no doubt that the schools to which the Independent alluded are illegal. Most of them are also probably unsafe. There is no doubt that planning laws in Hackney and neighbouring Haringey are habitually flouted by large and burgeoning Charedi families apparently desperate to extend the dwellings in which they dwell. That the regulations governing these matters are providentially overlooked is due, in part, to the work of a number of locally operating individuals.
But there is no sinister or secret "Jewish lobby" in this country. Charedi Jews, who are, after all, voters and council-tax payers, have rights as well as obligations. If their representatives want to pursue - however misguided we may judge it - an unashamedly "ethnic" agenda, that's their privilege. But instead of recognising this, Porteous Wood seems to me to have embarked upon an ill-judged rant that descended into Judeophobic invective.
On the larger issue - illegal schools - what is needed now is a cooling of tempers. The government and Ofsted should hold a round-table discussion with Hackney-based Charedi parents, insisting that the law must be obeyed but exploring ways in which this outcome can be amicably achieved while preserving the genuine essentials of the Charedi lifestyle.
I can think of no-one better placed that Avrohom Pinter to facilitate such a dialogue.