Like many other people over the past two years, I have been watching the infamous ‘strictly Orthodox activist and head of a Hackney-based construction company’ Shraga Stern from afar with that characteristic ‘car-crash’ guilty fascination.
In his bombastic quest for celebrity he has crossed more lines than I can count, but with a degree of chutzpah that has so far made him invincible.
His debut article in the JC, however, demands that someone raise their head above the parapet and call him out.
I have lived my entire life in Stamford Hill and work in Golders Green. I know very well the mood in the Charedi community both before and after the recent election.
The esteem in which Boris Johnson is held is accurately reflected by the rock star reception he received when visiting Grodskinki’s bakery. Conversely, Jeremy Corbyn is viewed with revulsion as a Soneh Yisrael.
In the run-up to the election an unprecedented number of Charedi activists emerged to encourage voters in the deepest red constituencies in the country to vote Tory and many Charedim took an interest in politics for the first time in their lives.
The mood across the community after the results came in can best be compared to what football fans feel when their team wins the FA Cup. Many shuls, including my local, have even had a celebratory kiddush.
When Shraga Stern writes, then, that “within Charedi communities Labour’s 2019 election defeat is not being celebrated at all”, he is simply spouting utter nonsense. And he is brazen about it.
He thinks he can get away with it because the wider Jewish community know little about what Charedi Jews think and ordinary Charedim are not proactive about letting them know.
It’s therefore time to set the record straight.
For many Charedim, Israel and Zionism is not part of their Jewish identity in the way that it is for most British Jews. Within the Charedi community, there is also a substantial minority, represented chiefly by Satmar, who believe that Judaism and Zionism are diametrically opposed.
In reality, however, most ordinary Charedim, whatever their theological opinions, strongly support Israel for all practical purposes. Shraga Stern’s extreme anti-Zionist views are certainly not representative of the Charedi community.
More importantly, however, even within Satmar the idea of actively supporting, in any way whatsoever, organisations that oppose the state of Israel, be they Far Right, Far Left, Islamist or anything else, is considered bizarre and in most cases actually forbidden.
The founder of Satmar, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, was absolutely clear that the PLO and other bodies were antisemitic murderers.
He would never in a million years have supported a politician who was present at a wreath laying ceremony for the Munich Olympics terrorists.
Shraga Stern’s one-man Chassidic branch of Momentum is well beyond the pale of even fervently anti-Zionist Charedim. He has placed himself, instead, in the same fruitcake category as Neturei Karta’s two dozen UK supporters.
He is entitled to his beliefs and I’m sure he will make quite a splash at Jewish Voice for Labour or Jewdas Chanukah parties.
He has no right whatsoever, though, to put himself forward as a representative of the Charedi community, cynically exploiting the lack of organised public leadership to push his fringe agenda.
Shraga Stern is right that ordinary Charedim are thoroughly disenchanted with Ofsted for reasons that I have myself explained at length here, and sadly we’ve reached a point where many would perhaps even endorse a policy of abolishing it.
We were also savvy enough to realise that when it comes to the key issue of teaching sexuality in schools the Labour party can hardly be relied upon to understand the Charedi community’s perspective.
Most importantly, we recognised the threat of a Prime Minister who sees the “hand of Israel” in all conflicts across the Middle East and considers Hamas and Hezballah to be “friends”.
In this we were and are entirely at one with the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi.
Indeed, perhaps the best thing that has come out of this election is the unprecedented degree of unity among British Jewry and it would be a tragedy if this unity was wrecked by anyone taking Stern at face value.
Unfortunately, Stern’s outrageous article is part of a larger trend which I believe has been orchestrated from within the Labour Party.
A few weeks ago, a hitherto unknown organisation called ‘United European Jews’ presided over by Rabbis no-one had ever heard of and replete with a fake address announced ‘Thank you! Mr Corbyn’ on behalf of the Charedi community. Shockingly, just before the election ‘unknown’ activists took advantage of the infirm Rabbi Padwa to produce a letter attacking those who sought to stop the election of an institutionally antisemitic party.
Throughout, Shraga Stern has been making himself available whenever Jeremy Corbyn needed an ostentatiously Jewish looking man for a photoshoot.
Shraga Stern’s activity over the past two years has been prolific. He started off as an anti-Ofsted activist, moved on to attacking the Board of Deputies, declared war on the Charedi umbrella organisation for schools known as Chinuch UK and briefly tried to pick a fight with CST, before finally settling on becoming the Chassidic face of 21st century Trotskyism.
He has formed an endearing odd-couple partnership with self-described Zionist Professor Geoffrey Alderman, who is, funnily enough, his source for Corbyn’s ‘documented record of support for Charedi concerns’.
Meanwhile, he has spearheaded an appalling campaign of vilification against prominent figures in the Charedi community, personally calling one a ‘Kapo’ in his rambling email missives.
Let’s call time on this increasingly grotesque farce.