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Belz and dog-whistles

There’s a story appearing in the Times and the Guardian upon which anti-semites and proto-totalitarian atheists are feasting like flies on dung. Read the comments to see what I mean, and bear in mind that those you see are the ones the mods did not think bad enough to delete. Yet the story that has brought forth such rage does not describe any sort of religiously-inspired persecution, cruelty or mutilation. No one is being forced to do anything. If it were not for the malign involvement of one particular sinister organisation this same story would raise a slightly condescending chuckle from the average broadsheet reader at the eccentricities of religious enthusiasts, before being forgotten.

The sinister organisation that is stirring up religious hatred is Her Majesty’s Department of Education. Sorry, Department for Education. Don’t blame me for not keeping up; the D of E / DfEE / DfES / DCSF / D for E changes its name more often than an outfit selling dodgy timeshares.

Back to the story. Apparently there is an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect called the Belz, some of whose adherents live in Stamford Hill, a part of North London where many Hasidic Jews of several different denominations make their home. This particular sect, the Belzers (both that name and “the Belz” seem to be in use), run a couple of schools. It seems that the Belzer top rabbi sent out a decree saying that women should not drive and that children attending the sect’s schools would be turned away if their mums turned up to collect them by car. Absent the government’s interference this would have been quietly dealt with in the obvious manner as described in the Times story “However, several women drove large people-carriers, apparently to collect their children from school, but parked some distance away”, and that would have been an end to it. But no. Woop-de-do, the government is on the case:

Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has begun an investigation into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect whose rabbis have banned women from driving children to school.


Mrs Morgan, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people, they are breaching the independent school standards.”

Consider that for a moment. A government minister pronounces on whether the voluntary and entirely legal behaviour of certain British women is “acceptable” to “modern Britain”, the role of giving or refusing acceptance on behalf of sixty-four million individuals having apparently been added to the DfE’s ever-changing remit while nobody was looking. The minister then adds that failure on the part of a so-called independent school to actively promote an officially approved emotion is in breach of some official standards.

Now the Belzers could be said to have brought this interference upon themselves if they either accepted government coin to run their “independent” schools or signed up for these “independent school standards”, whatever they are. (The papers seem remarkably coy about whether these schools are truly private or wholly or partially state-funded. I expect they are hiding something damaging to the narrative.) But when the government regularly uses legal harassment to make it next to impossible to run a private organization without accepting some government “help” and acceding to government-set standards, it is hard to blame those running the Belz schools if they did give in to the men from the Ministry. They were probably told that if they paid this symbolic tribute then they would be left alone.

What business is it of anyone else if a woman chooses to accept, or to pretend to accept, a religious ruling not to drive? Is driving compulsory now, that choosing to cease doing it is “unacceptable” to the Secretary of State? What business is it of anyone else if independent schools and independent parents come to an agreement about which pupils shall attend a particular school that is based on conditions mutually acceptable to them? So the religious ruling and the conditions of attendance seem absurd to you and me? So we and Nicky Morgan would order our acceptably modern British lives better than these relics do? So what?

I am usually a sceptic towards the idea of “dog whistles”. This is a political metaphor from the States which is meant to describe the way that allegedly racist Republicans allegedly use coded language that seems harmless but carries a secret nefarious meaning at a frequency that only fellow racist Republicans can hear. Oh, and Democrat newspaper columnists can hear it too, for some reason. Coded racism can really occur, as can racist Republicans, but most of the time this is just a way of accusing people of racism for political advantage without the necessity of providing any evidence.

But I could come round to the belief that political dog-whistles do exist. There must be some explanation of why the trivial doings of this homeopathically tiny Jewish sect of a sect are bringing forth such passionate denunciations from journalists and their readers. I think it is because the Belz act towards women like Muslims do but are not Muslims. By righteously raging at the Belz for their half-hearted pretence at oppression of women you get to demonstrate how you totally would rage at their Muslim equivalents for their much more effectively enforced actual oppression of women – only they don’t happen to be in the newspaper today. And how convenient that the Belz are few in number, low in the hierarchy of victimhood favoured by the left, and do not turn to violence when criticised.

As a bonus the last paragraph of the Times story contains a tacked-on paragraph showcasing a completely different way that the state, working in partnership with people of faith, can stir up resentment between Jews and non-Jews:

Aurelie Fhima, 23, has won £16,000 damages from Travel Jigsaw of Manchester, a travel firm, after her job application was rejected. She had said that she did not want to work on Saturdays because she observed the Jewish law of not working on the sabbath.

Congratulations, Aurelie, for your pioneering and profitable use of discrimination law. Who would have guessed that a working for a travel agent would involve working on a Saturday, the only day when most working people are free to visit travel agents? Good thing for you that the travel agents were not gay; your unprogressive religion would not have scored highly enough to trump them then.

22 comments to Belz and dog-whistles

  • Snag

    “It’s just like Saudi Arabia” they will say, except that in this case the restrictions are for the members of a certain group whose membership is entirely voluntary, whereas in Saudi it is written into the law of the land, and transgression can get you beaten by the religious police. Apples and barstools.

  • Veryretired

    It is endlessly fascinating to watch those who love state power find new ways to justify its relentless expansion into more and more of our personal lives. Even more intriguing is their ability to exempt some groups, while finding others offensive in some actionable way.

    One might almost wonder if, in fact, there is any endpoint to all this power accumulation short of total control of all aspects of our public and personal lives.

    Oh, that’s right—the personal life is dead in Russia…

  • aplofar

    Snag – exactly. It’s remarkable how easily the sloppy wording of things makes things seem to be the case when they simply are not. “…whose rabbis have banned women from driving to school.” No, the rabbis have forbidden the collection of children, from the schools they control, by women drivers. Which is a stupid thing to do – but they have not, somehow, forced the women to stop driving. At best they’ve probably caused some of their sect members to consider whether Belz is really the right crowd to hang out with – or to obey in all particulars. (The Catholic Church has ‘banned’ artificial contraception. How has that gone, generally?)

    But I see this kind of writing all the time“University X has banned bottled water!” No, they’ve just stopped selling it on campus. You can still have it there; they won’t nightstick you for swigging a Dasani in the quadrangle. “Company X raises minimum wage to $Y!” No, they just decided to pay all of their workers more than a certain amount. It has nothing to do with the government’s “minimum wage” as commonly discussed.

    It makes me wonder whether certain people are being disingenuous, unintentionally verbally cliched, or whether they genuinely do not percieve a difference between voluntary-membership groups making rules, and actual enforceable law.

  • Laird

    aplofar, my vote would be for disingenuous.

  • aplofar

    Laird: Yeah, probably. Honestly, I’m not even sure what I would prefer. But I’ve met enough people for whom “important person said to do it” and “you will be physically forced to do it” are but two flavours of the same thing, to believe that there could be some of the third option. (I think it stands out because it’s such a radically different model of the mind – graspable for me, but only intermittently and with effort. It’s like astrology for human action – “This month, the movement of Saturn has banned sugary drinks.”)

  • Mr Ed

    Well it appears from what I can discern from the Department for Education’s database that the school is private.

    The Jewish Chronicle appears to be a good source for information about the issue, and the correspondence with the Education Secretary.

  • As has been questioned by Natalie in her main post, I also have to wonder what business this issue is of the Department for Education, given that it is a private school and not in receipt of state funding.

    However, the charitable status (if any) of the institutions involved might be something of a concern. This should, of course, be dealt with even-handedly, with respect to other religions etc.

    If it is a valid (and pretty much sole) charitable purpose to be against each or any of the various forms of sexual and other discrimination, how is it reasonable for there to be government-granted charitable rights for other organisations that discriminate on those very grounds?

    Best regards

  • pete

    The discrimination industry is just one way we keep the middle class employed.

    High unemployment among the educated and articulate would be a threat to peace and order, which is why society has adapted by creating millions of non-jobs in all sorts or new bureaucracies.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, “disingenuous.” Yes, agreed. Then my Inner Voice adds, “or stupid.” A flash as the Inner Light-bulb turns on! Sometimes (maybe mostly) disingenuous; sometimes, perhaps, not overburdened with brains; but actually, what about having no idea of how to figure out whether occurrences, or statements, A and B are really examples of the same thing or not? And what about having no idea of the fact that sometimes a difference in degree does yield a difference in kind — and sometimes not?

    So, it dawns on me that this requires the mental activity known as “critical thinking,” and according to a great many reports it is not a skill greatly stressed in modern education. Perhaps The Times’ editorial staff has never been much encouraged to develop it.

  • Thailover

    Why should any abrahaic religion sect or denomination be forced to hide how absolutely dispicable they truly are? Why is it the public’s business anyway? If your a woman who needs to drive your children to school, but the school is controlled by fascists/religious fanatics…go to another school, private or non-private. Why would the public try to force acceptable window dressing behavior from them? That’s like demanding that a parent not beat and torture their child IN PUBLIC, as it doesn’t suit pubic mores. The unpopular truth is, religious fanatics, especially of the abrahamic ilk, are complete assholes. Complaining about their views on women drivers is pointless. It’s still their opinion, even if you force them to hide it from you.

  • Dagny Taggart

    indeed, if the school is private then the government has no business dictating the school policy. However I would be highly suspicious of any suggestion that what the criticism of the Belz is motivated by a covert ant-semitism.

    It is a curious that today many of those who would otherwise dismiss accusations of racism and characterize themselves as anti PC suddenly become hyper sensitive when it comes to the issue of antisemitism.

  • I tend to agree with Dagny – not that I would rule out total absence of antisemitism on the part of whoever is involved, but that is not the point. To me it seems like the usual statist impulse to control human behavior. They would do it to an Islamic school as well, but that is simply too risky for reasons well known at this point – at least to anyone who has not been living in a cave for the past few decades.

  • Roue le Jour

    To mount one of my hobby-horses, this the sort of thing you can expect when a government department is allowed to choose its own minister.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Dagny Taggart, from what I have observed as a serial reader of Guardian comment pages, a substantial portion of criticism of the Belz and similar sects is indeed motivated by anti-semitism, and not that covert either. If you wish to check out what I say, go and look right now at today’s Belz story. Five out of the first six comments were deleted, for good reason, but don’t worry, new ones are coming all the time. Even if you aren’t quick enough to beat the moderators, judge from the comments that are left how nasty the stuff that was deleted was.

    In my experience over the last few years straightforward anti-semitism has become much more acceptable on the left and much less acceptable on the right.

    Nonetheless, as I said in the main post, I think a more important motive than antisemitism for this level of anger against a normally unobtrusive group is that it comes from people who would like to denounce Islam but don’t dare. Rather than acknowledge their fear (which I am not saying is unreasonable) they turn their anger against a safe target. Their anger is all the more bitter because they know in their hearts that it is misdirected.

  • It is a curious that today many of those who would otherwise dismiss accusations of racism and characterize themselves as anti PC suddenly become hyper sensitive when it comes to the issue of antisemitism.

    I agree such comments are not always indicative of anti-Semitism. But in my experience in the vast majority of instances, that is precisely what it is. It is not quite as perfect a correlation as, say, the topic of race and IQ, where it is essentially 1.0, but it is pretty damn close.

  • Paul Marks

    As long as a school does not take money from the taxpayers its rules are none of the concern of the government.

    Sadly the modern elite (of all parties) do not recognise any limits to the power of the state.

    In Britain there is little Civil Society as such – even charities are normally dependent on state funding.

    The state is becoming “all in all” here.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Not that any of this is incompatible with what Alisa has described as the “the usual statist impulse to control human behavior”. That one never seems to go out of fashion, alas. Here’s a typical and quite popular comment from today’s Belz story in the Guardian:


    The right of women to be treated equally is much more fundamental then the right to religion which is after all just a set of arbitrary and abstract beliefs which are open to change and interpretation from place to place and era to era. There is no justification on any grounds for prohibitions like this in modern Britain.

    The leaders of this community should be given a simple ultimatum, reform or be arrested and charged with human rights violations, otherwise what’s the point of enshrining human rights in law in the first place?

    I wish I could convince myself that the last paragraph, advocating that people turn from their heretical religious beliefs or be arrested for human rights violations, was meant as irony.

  • As long as a school does not take money from the taxpayers its rules are none of the concern of the government.

    Indeed, anything else is tyranny. People must be entitled to hold preposterous beliefs.

  • Niall Kilmartin

    Well done, Natalie, for your judgment and your passion. We care a lot about halting PC’s shrinking of the area of free speech and free action. Perhaps its true of a lot of us that it started with noticing some speech _we’d_ like to feel free to say; some action _we’d_ like to be free to do. But you soon have to choose: become a racket, like modern PC, or embrace “Personally, I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (I never hear that without thinking of the army officer’s version: “Personally, private, I agree with what you say, but I will deny to the death _your_ right to say it.”)

    Somehow I am inspired to deduce that you don’t actually agree with the Belz on this issue. 🙂 (Well done for not wasting a sentence of your forceful post actually saying so! I briefly thought of discussing statistical male/female balance-of-skills differences – female-verbal/male-visiospatial – thence discuss the latter’s role in driving, the occasional role of prejudice in encoding statistical rules not clearly understood, and so on, yadda, yadda, with a view to producing something that would sound no nuttier than a Rotherham council document, but then realised that a member of the belz might conceivably visit this thread and take me seriously. 🙂 Plus I was aware there’s a powerful counterargument to even the most jokey case in my own family 🙂 )

    Do our opponents include some into those who truly get, and truly hate, our freedom principles. Or are almost all just convinced that we are “such another as thyself” – hiding our racism, sexism or whatever under plausible slogans. Or, as Alisa suggests above, is it so mixed with folly that it is meaningless to ask if they make the distinction: has killing freedom become something “it’s more than my job’s worth” not to do?

  • Niall Kilmartin

    Niall Kilmartin wrote “… as Alisa suggests above, is it so mixed with folly …”. Actually it was Julie near Chicago who made that particular point. I should try reading other people’s posts with the attention I give to writing my own – or rather more, given that mine has a typo at the start of the last para.

  • Somehow I am inspired to deduce that you don’t actually agree with the Belz on this issue.

    I obviously can’t speak for Natalie, but as for myself, I don’t see how is it my place, as a non-member of the Belz, to agree or disagree. Being a member of these Jewish sects is absolutely voluntary, with anyone, a man or a woman, being free to leave if they wish, absent contractual obligations such as marriage and children, and as such it is none of my business.


    In response to coverage of the story, the local Belz’s women’s organisation Neshei Belz issued a statement to say that they felt “extremely privileged and valued to be part of a community where the highest standards of refinement, morality and dignity are respected. We believe that driving a vehicle is a high pressured activity where our values may be compromised by exposure to selfishness, road-rage, bad language and other inappropriate behaviour.”

    This was a non-issue, before the busybodies decided to stick their sticky paws into it.