Extremism leads to Terrorism. Are Jewish schools exempt?
Recent press articles have equated Jewish schools with radical Muslim schools some of which promote segregation from the wider society. This is worrying but unsurprising. About 18000 children aged 5 to 16, attend Jewish schools in the UK. The schools range from those who describe themselves as having a ‘Jewish Pluralist Ethos’ like JCOSS to Talmud Torah Tiferes Schlomoh which ‘has been branded a failing school by Ofsted, which judged it spends too much time teaching Jewish religious studies’ (Ham and High, 9 April 2015).
All sensible people would applaud the Government’s new, revised Prevent strategy on Extremism and Terrorism and would do whatever they can to support it. Prevent concludes that extremism leads to terrorism. We may think nothing like this would happen in our schools but recently in Israel an alleged ‘terrorist Jew’ fire bombed a Palestinian house in Duma killing a small child. It is too easy to say it simply would not happen in Britain. We cannot be complacent: firstly it might happen here, and secondly even if it doesn’t, our detractors are starting to tar us with the same brush as the Muslim extremists as was shown in a Sky News report on this subject last week by a National Secular Society spokesman
Most of our Jewish schools strive to teach our children the value of tolerance and respect for the wider community, indeed in many Jewish schools there are non-Jewish students learning alongside the Jewish students in harmony and respect. However the Prevent strategy has gathered evidence which shows worryingly a different picture both globally and in the UK:
‘There have been allegations that a minority of independent faith schools have been actively promoting views that are contrary to British values, such as intolerance of other cultures and gender inequality. There have also been reports that some independent faith schools have allowed extremist views to be expressed by staff, visitors or pupils..’ ( Prevent Strategy Review 10.32)
Can we in the Anglo Jewish community be certain that this does not apply to any of our independent faith schools?
The problems begins to arise in those Jewish schools, some of which are state funded, which do not wish to teach the children to mix with the general population, often insultingly referred to as ‘goyim’. Their curriculum is limited, not including for example sex education, or Science, Music or Art in full. The School’s view is these subjects are not deemed suitable or necessary for its children. The result is that children in these schools are not being exposed to British society. Would it not be better for the children from these so called ultra-orthodox schools to be taught about all that society can offer and then educated, having that knowledge, that as Jews they need to be circumspect as to how much it is proper for them to avail themselves of?
What is required is a dialogue with the Rabbis who run these schools, explaining just how dangerous and potentially disastrous this blinkered approach could be. Isn’t there a profound risk that extremism in the Jewish world will turn into terrorism, and then fuelled by media reports, become anti Semitism?
Our non-Jewish friends may believe us when we tell them that it is only a minority of schools who act in this way. However the figures show that as much as one in four of the 10000 primary school children in Jewish school do in fact go to schools which the majority of Anglo Jewry would consider right wing; the schools with these limited curriculums are thus failing to teach pupils all that society can offer.
Indeed such is the concern in the wider community that the Government’s Chief inspector of schools has only this week said that he will ensure that all schools teach the importance of British values as a “top priority” and he referred specifically to those with a large Jewish and Muslim intake.
We need to face up to the potential dangers and help ourselves.
Academic Friends of Israel