Guilty of False Equivalence

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

The Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that the admissions policy of JFS (the publicly funded Jewish Free School, the biggest Jewish school in the UK) contravenes the Race Relations Act.

The three Appeal Court Judges said that what is sauce for the Race Relations Act goose, must be sauce for the school admissions gander: they said that Jews are correctly treated as a racial group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act but that means that a school admissions policy that relies on the Orthodox definition of Judaism (matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion) is illegal.

From the judgement:

“It is here, as it seems to us, that the respondents’ argument encounters a major problem. One of the great evils against which the successive Race Relations Acts have been directed is the evil of anti-Semitism. None of the parties to these proceedings wants or can afford to put up a case which would result in discrimination against Jews not being discrimination on racial grounds. There would have to be something wrong with such an argument. So Lord Pannick accepts, indeed insists, not only that Jews are an ethnic or racial group and not simply a theological construct, but that for all purposes except those of the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR) and the school, ‘M’ is a Jew. This is not an easy position to maintain, but its corollary, if it can be maintained, is that what excludes ‘M’ is not his race or ethnicity but his eligibility to be regarded in Orthodox eyes as a Jew, a matter of pure theology. “

The judgement has been welcomed by non-Orthodox Rabbis Danny Rich and Jonathan Romain.

But there is a glaring fallacy in the judgement. The definition of a Jew for the purposes of the Race Relations Act is much wider than the biblical one which the OCR and JFS have. Under the MacPherson definition of racism established by the The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person. That’s as it should be: imagine if the BNP could be freely racist to Jews who have converted the Liberal or Reform way but not to those who have converted the Orthodox way. Or imagine if it could be freely racist to children of a black father and a white mother but not to children with two black parents.

So the Judges are guilty of False Equivalence, no doubt in the interests of political correctness. It’s an astonishing mistake to make and surely the House of Lords will overturn the decision.

But not without costing the United Synagogue (that is, its members) thousands of pounds, to add to the £150,000 it has already spent on fighting the case…..

Yes it is a ‘strike against sectarianism’ DavidT . But it is a deeply flawed one……