This week saw the announcement of a new development for UK Charedi Jews, the establishment of the Pinter Trust, dedicated, in its own words, to being a ‘point of contact for our community’s public affairs and public relations’. There is no doubt that this is an important step forward, one that has come not a moment too soon, and it is entirely appropriate that it be named after Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, a man who was a pioneer in community relations. It is also good news to see that Rabbi Pinter’s protege, Yoel Friedman, will be employing his capable hands in making sure this initiative is a success.
While managing the public affairs of a community is a noble task, my own personal calling is offering unsolicited advice on the internet so I hope it won’t be considered impertinent to do it here.
Though the concept of following in the footsteps of Rabbi Pinter is wholly positive, some of the promotional material has presented the Pinter Trust as ‘filling the void’ (or, in some cases, ‘partially filling the void’) that his untimely passing left. It may seem petty to quibble about language, but it is of the utmost importance to emphasise at the start, that if the Pinter Trust takes this message too literally, it will not be able to do what is necessary to ensure a hospitable environment for continuing Charedi growth in the next few decades. The context in which our community exists has changed significantly since the days when Rabbi Pinter acted as a one-man Charedi PR agency, and, as a result, the old methods will no longer cut it.
The nature of this change is twofold. The first is cultural and political. Twenty years ago, multiculturalism was the regnant orthodoxy, and politicians of all stripes were desperate above all to demonstrate their tolerance for, and warm relations with, minority communities, the weirder the better. It was entirely possible for a senior government minister to be photographed at an event in Stamford Hill with an ostentatious mechitza separating men and women, without anyone making a fuss about ‘gender apartheid’. Times have changed. The privilege pecking order (according to which the more privileges you get the less ‘privileged’ you are), has changed, and, now, being a member of a minority community is no longer an excuse for flouting the latest orthodoxies on gender, race, and sexuality; in some cases, it might even be an aggravating factor.
This shift was undoubtedly expedited by fears that autonomous minority communities were breeding grounds for terrorism, but it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. ‘Rubbing the Right’s nose in diversity’, as it was so eloquently put by Tony Blair’s speechwriter was not an ultimate goal, but a phase, of liberalism, that once it had achieved its purpose would inevitably give way to the imposition of liberal mores on these minority communities. Charedim rode the tiger, but now the tiger wants lunch.
The second shift is informational. The iphone was first released for sale in 2007, Facebook was launched in 2003, even Google only goes back to 1998, and all of these developments took years to achieve social saturation. There was a time, much more recently than it seems, where you could say more or less anything to a journalist and they had no real way of checking. Now, within a couple of minutes even a true statement can be easily ‘debunked’ through a few minutes searching the internet for exposes of the Charedi community written by hostile critics. Not only can we no longer keep secrets, any voice we have is just one among millions available through a simple click. Blatant apologetic and obfuscation will no longer cut it.
What is more, even scrupulous honesty won’t win the battle for public opinion, unless it is backed by something more than you just saying it.
What this means is that the model for Charedi PR in the 21st century must involve building up genuine intellectual and institutional credibility in the marketplace of ideas. Media and government organisations who want to know this or that piece of information, or are looking for a narrative that can make sense of it, must see you as the default place to go, and not National Secular Society or Humanists UK. This cannot be done by being nice, nor can it be done through building networks of influence in government and high society – though they both are undoubtedly extremely important in their own right. It can be done only one way: by earning it.
In practical terms this means three things. The first is to move away from the model of fire-fighting over the latest outrage or scandal that hits the press. It may help to smooth things over to claim that, in response to a busted wedding, that, actually, most Charedim really do try to comply with social distancing regulations, but its long term effect is to make people mentally bracket you as an apologist who is asked for a ‘balance’ quote rather than a trusted source of information. The second, related, point, is to refrain from any forms of apologetic that can easily be exposed as partial or misleading. It may be helpful for someone to muddy the waters, but your job is building up long-term credibility. Finally, it means identifying issues which will be thorns in our side in years to come, and building up a bank of research, analysis and arguments that are as good as anything our opponents have to offer. To take a pressing example, Nahamu’s position paper on ‘forced marriage’ in the community is a mess of non-sequiturs, concocted ‘case-studies’, innuendo, and illogic, but it is at present the only thing that relevant decision makers and opinion formers have that meets their standards of evidence. Outraged op-eds or personal anecdotes won’t do anything to change this, nor will a tour of Grodzkinki’s. Only a better publication, authored by a respectable organisation can do that.
This paradigm shift will not be easy for a community that is accustomed to looking at PR as an individual vocation that consists of window dressing, powered by personal charisma and charm. The Pinter Trust has the assets it needs to be the vehicle of that paradigm shift, but realising that potential will require a model of self-denial that can withstand the urge to spend capital for short term gain.
I look forward to, five years from now, seeing the Pinter Trust cited at a parliamentary select committee or in the pages of The Times. אם תרצו אין זו אגדה.
3 thoughts on “Decent Exposure”
I am sure you are aware of the provenance of the quote with which you end your blog. Are you aware of any such Zionistic influence in the Pinter Trust? Otherwise, you might have considered using the authentic Jewish quote אין דבר עומד מפני הרצון
I have this to say on the recent Spitzer-Nahamu bust up.
Both sides have found it convenient to ignore their opponent’s criticisms. Rabbi Spitzer’s invocation of Beis Din as a one stop shop dispensing intra-communal justice is grimly inadequate and he knows it or ought to know it. Leaving aside the constitutional issue of a state within a state, the history of failure is undeniable. Add to this the published opinions of the UOHC Dayanim, and the comprehensive and sickening failures around the world from the YU modern orthodox through to Satmar Williamsburg to deal with sexual abusers. Kolko and Walder are case studies in ineffectual Rabbinic leadership repeated by different Rabbis over decades, and it took journalism to expose what was hiding in plain sight.
Going to the police or the secular authorities is also not a serious option as a one size fits all. Jimmy Saville boasted about his rapes in his memoirs: he was never seriously investigated by the police. The court system and the police investigation can be be deeply traumatising and the plaintiffs in these cases do not owe it to anyone but themselves – and then only if they want to – to go through with it. Psychiatrists colluded with Gur politicians to cover up for Leifer – the so called professionals are not immune. Of course many Charedim will not want to engage with a system that is utterly alien to their conception of dispute resolution.
My conclusion is that there is no one size which fits all. Those who can and want to should be supported to complain to the police. Those who want to take the matter before a Beis Din, though I do not believe they will get a fair hearing from the UOHC, should be supported to do so. I stop short of vigilante violence, but there should be no place at all in shuls, workplaces, or schools for abusers. Everyone can and must facilitate safety from sexual abuse.
It is self evident that the Say No / Run Away / Tell an Adult approach demands far less from victims than the Tell a courtroom / Jury / Judge/ Multiple police officers / Multiple hostile barristers approach that project Nahamu advocate for. The freezing reflex is not a consistent given in a situation of abuse. Running away advice is simply common sense.
Nahamu have a feminist ideology which emphasises retribution and power, and has insufficient regard to the more mundane and less cathartic work of protection. The assertion that there is more abuse in Charedi society is, despite extensive expenditure on research, merely anecdotal case studies.
The difference between me and Rabbi Spitzer is that I genuinely would like to know the truth, and I suspect he genuinely would not.
Per Eve Sacks’ latest tweet, I have misunderstood. What Project Nahamu really want is an (unqualified?) commitment to Believe All (persons claiming to be?) Victims.
The ambiguity about the words in the brackets is a useful as a motte and bailey fallacy.
Depending on whether the items in the brackets are intended to apply, this is either (a) an uncontroversial statement of no great import or (b) a radical, unreasonable, and unlawful demand as adjudged by Sir Richard Henriques, and the philosophy leading to the abuses of Operation Midland. Common sense, also known as the preponderance of evidence, including corroborative evidence, really does have to come into it as well.