I have learned the hard way that any comment on COVID-19 that doesn’t start, continue and end with a passionate denunciation of people who don’t social distance will be met with a torrent of ‘offensive nonsense’, ‘defending the indefensible’ and ‘ignorant bluster’. I was ready for more of the same when I responded to the fallout of WeddingGate, but what took me more by surprise was the backlash I got on Stamford Hill WhatsApp groups for this tweet, in which I commented positively on the journalistic standards of the infamous Jewish News expose. Though this was left out of the screenshots whizzing their way around local social media, my point was to demonstrate by way of comparison the sheer disgrace of how the Jewish Chronicle has responded. In a forthcoming article, I will explain why I think the proposed boycott of the Jewish News is a bad idea, but first I want to draw attention here to what really hostile media coverage looks like.
Whilst the Jewish News observed journalistic ethics as they are generally understood, the same absolutely cannot be said of the Jewish Chronicle. At the same time as the Jewish News was putting together its detailed report, the JC went straight to the gutter, sending cameramen to stand outside grocery shops and take snaps of minors, which they then splashed – Daily Star style – all over their home page.
This, however, was just the first step, for what followed was an opinion piece by Daniel Greenberg calling on Charedim to be disowned by all other Jews on the grounds that they have “no connection with Jewish law or values and has become simply a self-indulgent and dangerous sect.” Daniel Greenberg’s complicated and emotionally fraught relationship with the Charedi community is a subject in and of itself. He has a developed a religious vision, that he has elaborated on his blog, which consists of Judaism returning to its core values by jettisoning an ill-defined and constantly expanding list of anachronistic practices. He is, of course, welcome to search for his ideal Judaism wherever he wishes, but what makes his argument truly sick is his insistence that Charedim, by merely existing, are standing in the way of his vision and must be kicked out so a better world can emerge. This is the same twisted mentality behind every kind of persecution and all Greenberg had to do to get the Jewish Chronicle to publish it was to tack on a few lines about lockdown violations.
After sending out the signal that Charedim are an exception to the general taboo on publishing deranged hate rants about groups of people you don’t like, the Jewish Chronicle decided to go the whole hog and penned a leader accusing Charedim of causing antisemitism based on the ‘mistaken impression’ that the good and pure Jews of Bushey have anything to do with us. It is not possible here to fully plumb the depravity of this allegation, but I will attempt to outline the main points.
First of all, the idea is entirely surreal and reveals only the unhealthy, paranoid mindset of those that hold it. Strong support for COVID-lockdown is overwhelmingly concentrated among the educated middle and upper classes, precisely those who are the most queasy about holding minority groups collectively responsible for anything. It is nothing more than a fever dream to suppose that these same people will start blaming the wider Jewish community for the actions of the Charedim. No respectable Jewish Chronicle reader needs to be worried about being disinvited to a prestigious ZOOM seminar about how the new Biden administration will improve diversity in yoga because someone got them mixed up with a Charedi.
Secondly, the Chronicle is completely ignoring the fact that the left-wing anti-zionists who account for the growth of anti-semitism in recent years typically go out of their way to emphasise that they don’t have any problem with Charedim. Despite my own personal support for the state of Israel, I am periodically contacted by Corbynist media outlets who assume that, because I wear a shtreimel, I must be their ally. Indeed, throughout the Corbyn saga, the Charedi community had the option to cut a separate deal with Momentum. Only one man took this deal and his biggest platform was the Chronicle itself. Instead, as a community, we stood side by side with the rest of Anglo Jewry in defending their right not to be bullied at university campuses or Labour party meetings, things of barely any relevance to Stamford Hill.
Third, and most importantly, in making this allegation, the Chronicle makes an outright mockery of the principles upon which they pretend to base their campaigning against anti-semitism. Over and over again they have declared that Jews are never responsible for anti-semitism, only to reveal that only their kind of Jews were included in this category. Over and over again, they attacked the tendency of the Labour leadership to excuse anti-semitic language as the understandable excesses of those angry at Zionism, but they didn’t mean it. When it comes to being angry at Charedim, being outraged means you can say whatever you want.
By contrast, the Jewish News has been careful this time not to allow people who hate Charedim to use COVID as an opportunity to vent their hate, even calling out others who do so. However much we might wish their expose did not exist, we don’t have a leg to stand on in opposing it. What we can, and very much should, do, however, is object to people who feel sick at the sight of someone with peyos and are using these revelations as an excuse to vent decades of built up loathing.
After years of jealously protecting its reputation as a bulwark against bigotry, the Jewish Chronicle, and a fair chunk of the Anglo Jewish community, has let the mask slip: they can’t stand us and they don’t mind saying so. That’s not something anyone else in British society has to put up with and there’s no reason we should be the exception.