Why didn't MPs speak to the most abused Jews?

November 24, 2016 23:12

Earlier this week, the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons released its report on antisemitism.

My colleagues in the news pages have discussed in detail what the report contains; I want to discuss what it does not contain; the voices of Charedim.

Yes, the Chief Rabbi gave testimony; but, while most of the Charedi community may respect the Chief Rabbi, they do not see him as their representative. While they see him as Orthodox, they do not see him as Charedi.

Charedi Jews in particular are subjected to more face-to-face antisemitism than any other type of Jew. This is for the fairly obvious reason that they are far more easily outwardly identifiable as Jewish.

Bearing this in mind, let us take a moment to consider the statement made by Rabbi Herschel Gluck, President of Shomrim volunteer security organisation of Stamford Hill:

People have yelled at me, abused me, spat at me

"While this report focuses primarily on the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and also online antisemitism on social-media platforms, it's important to note that the parliamentary inquiry did not request any evidence from the most visible section of the Jewish community, the Charedi community."

Think about that for a second; a committee putting together a report on antisemitism did not ask for specific input from representatives of the people most likely to experience such bigotry directly. That is an omission of quite staggering proportions.

It is a crying shame, because there are many elements of the report which are worthy of praise. But opponents of the report have already seized on this omission as a reason to discredit the report in its entirety.

The supreme irony is that such people do not seem to realise that, if the committee had indeed reached out to the Charedi community, it would have found an even stronger argument to reinforce some of its conclusions.

Last month, Shomrim, the voluntary security group in Stamford Hill, logged 32 separate incidents of antisemitic attacks in the Hackney area. These included assaults, death threats and verbal abuse. Rabbi Gluck described this as "the tip of the iceberg".

He was not wrong; the vast majority of such attacks on Charedim are not reported at all. They are not included in statistics put together by the police or the Community Security Trust; yet they happen, nonetheless. Shomrim provides a sterling service in the Stamford Hill area but it is clear that there is often reluctance on the part of many Charedim to report such incidents at all. There is a hesitation regarding making a fuss or rocking the boat in any way, often combined with a heavy dose of cynicism regarding the usefulness of making a report. What will it solve? Maybe it might make things worse? This is a regular part of the thought process.

Of the 32 incidents logged in the Shomrim report, seven of the perpetrators were described as white, eight as black, eleven as Asian, two as Middle Eastern, one as East Asian, and three of unknown ethnicity. Far from antisemitism being restricted to far-right BNP types, as some on the left trying to discredit this report would have us believe, Jew-hatred is a multicultural affair.

This gels with what I have personally experienced.

I grew up Charedi. I still consider myself Orthodox, although at the modern fringe of what is a fairly wide-ranging definition.

I have always worn a kippah, or as I grew up calling it, a yarmulke. And I have experienced direct, face-to-face antisemitism because of it.

I have been verbally abused by white British people, I have been threatened by white Eastern European people. I have been yelled at on buses by people of Asian origin, I have been spat at by Somali school-kids.

Last year, I had a white man thrust a cigarette lighter in my face, demanding if I knew what it was, before telling me I was a f***ing Jew. A few weeks later, I was walking on a Friday night when some men of Middle Eastern appearance drove past, shouted "free Palestine" and flicked a burning cigarette at me. They did that, not because they knew my views on Israel, but because they could see I was Jewish.

And I live in Golders Green. The situation in Stamford Hill is far worse.

There has been a great deal of criticism of the Strictly Orthodox community over the years, including from this paper. And some elements of that community deserve condemnation, as indeed do particular elements of every other community. I am under no illusions as to the flaws in the Charedi system.

However, one key criticism often made about the Strictly Orthodox community is its failure to blend in to British society.

Let us leave aside the fact that some of the most vocal critics of the Charedi reluctance to adapt would never dream of mocking the traditions of another culture. Did it ever occur to these people that this close-knit suspicion of outsiders is a defence mechanism, of sorts? That if you've been attacked by people beyond your community, a natural response is often to cleave ever-closer to your own people?

I have often found anger within the Charedi community at people who seem to identify as Jewish primarily, it seems, to make life harder for other Jews. There is a deep-seated contempt for such people, who affix their names to regular letters to the Guardian about how they have never personally experienced antisemitism, ergo it does not exist in modern Britain.

However, what can be said of those who claim to be deeply concerned with rising levels of antisemitism in the UK, yet who fail to bother discussing this with the people most affected by it? At best, it suggests a remarkable level of thoughtlessness.

It has provided an easy target for those who seek to discredit the equally real antisemitism discussed in the report.

And it has confirmed the suspicions of many Charedim, who feel that when it comes to how Judaism is presented to the wider UK society, they are at best marginalised, at worst totally ignored.

November 24, 2016 23:12

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