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Jewish Schools in Britain at Risk

Last week, three British judges ruled that JFS, formerly the Jews’ Free School, in north-west London, racially discriminated against an applicant. The school is state-funded. As the Telegraph reports:

The boy’s father is Jewish by birth, but his mother is Jewish by conversion conducted at a Progressive rather than an Orthodox synagogue and therefore not recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

The school sought to discriminate in favor of Jewish applicants certified by the Chief Rabbi — a procedure formerly thought to be legal, as long as the school was oversubscribed and the discrimination was not based on ethnicity. The judges found that, contrary to a decision by a lower court, what had been “characterised as religious grounds were in fact racial grounds, despite their theological motivation.” In short, the judges held, Jews are an ethnicity, and therefore are not eligible to maintain state supported schools that discriminate in favor of Jewish students, no matter if they are oversubscribed or not,
because that discrimination is racist.

I will leave it to the readers of this forum to debate the matter of the Chief Rabbi’s decision, as I suspect they possess expertise on this subject that I lack. But personally, I think the decision is appalling. Its tacit logic is that only religions based on proselytizing and conversion are real religions: those one is born into are ethnicities in disguise. This is a curious and indeed baseless truncation of religion, but if that is indeed is the reasoning, Britain’s Hindus and Sikhs will be as badly affected, in theory, by this decision, as are Britain’s Jewish citizens.

In practice, though, the weight of the decision will fall almost entirely on Jewish schools. In 2007, there were two state-funded Sikh schools in Britain, no Hindu schools — and 37 Jewish schools, educating almost half the Jewish children between the ages of four and fifteen. If the decision stands, these schools will either have to choose between going private or abandoning their identity.

There may be a case to be made that the state should not be supporting faith-based schools at all, and that their operations — like much else in Britain — should be left to local government organs. But that is not, as David Conway of Civitas points out, the existing system in place, as evidenced by 6,802 Christian state-maintained schools and seven Muslim ones operating in Britain. Indeed, all state-maintained schools have a legal obligation — often admittedly evaded — to provide religious instruction. The faith-based schools do not, therefore, stand as far apart from secular schools as one might think.

Nor does the faddish belief in “community cohesion” offer any justification for this decision, because no one with a fair mind maintains that Jewish schools are indoctrinating their students into social isolation or hostility. If that charge could be pressed against any schools in Britain, it would be against a section of the Muslim schools, which will be entirely unaffected by this decision.

And that, sadly, says a lot about Britain today, where judges perversely find that it’s the Jewish schools that are the nasty, racist, discriminatory ones. A better example of condemning the victim and using anti-discrimination law to do it would be hard to find.


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