On Wednesday, The Independent’s columnist Christina Patterson wrote a column detailing how rude she believed many Charedi Jews were to non-Jews. A gentile resident of Stamford Hill for 12 years, she described how the ultra-orthodox community had made her feel “about as welcome in the Hasidic Jewish shops as Martin Luther King at a Ku Klux Klan convention”.
“I didn’t realise,” she wrote, “that a purchase by a goy [a Yiddish phrase for a non-Jew] was a crime to be punished with monosyllabic terseness, or that bus seats were a potential source of contamination, or that road signs, and parking restrictions, were for people who hadn’t been chosen by God. And while none of this is a source of anything much more than irritation, when I see an eight-year-old boy recoiling from a normal-looking woman (because, presumably, he has been taught that she is dirty or dangerous, or, heaven forbid, dripping with menstrual blood) it makes me sad.”
The article – headlined “The limits of multi-culturalism” – went on to criticise the Islamic veil and laments the lack of successful prosecutions for female genital mutilation, a form of female circumcision which is practised by a number of different cultures and faiths.
Within hours of the article appearing online The Independent’s website Patterson’s email account was inundated with emotional comments from readers who were either delighted that the author had dared to write about such a contentious subject, or were outraged by what they perceived to be a vicious attack on Judaism.
Jewish columnists rounded on Patterson in unison with Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, accusing her of “unrelenting unadulterated anti-Jewish bigotry”.
Miriam Shaviv, one of the paper’s most prolific columnists, waded in with her own response to the article which she said was “one of the ugliest, most vile pieces ever published in the British press”. “You rather get the feeling that [Patterson] a) hates the Jews and Muslims really, seriously more than is necessary and b) feels they really ought to thank her for generously giving them permission to exist,” she wrote.
Yet Damian Thompson, a well-known Catholic blogger who regularly defends Israel and Judaism in his writing, came to Patterson’s defence and said it was right to highlight the sense of superiority some Jews have towards gentiles.
“Monosyllabic terseness towards goyim?” he wrote in a recent blog for the Daily Telegraph. “I’ve experienced it and it’s maddening. Jewish hostility towards Christians isn’t confined to the ultra-Orthodox… I could tell stories, of unbelievable haughtiness by leaders of Anglo-Jewry, which would have led to diplomatic incidents if the Christians involved weren’t afraid of being accused of anti-Semitism. I suppose I’m afraid of that, too.”
Thompson’s blog has since prompted a further response from Ms Shaviv who said that Jews do need to recognise how they are sometimes perceived by friends, neighbours and strangers alike. “There is today no excuse for Jews holding racist attitudes,” she wrote. “We need to make sure we all understand that the odd comment about “the goyim” is not just a joke; that there are consequences to treating non-Jews as if they are inferior.”