Swedish Secularism Targets Jewish Homeschoolers

Dec. 26 2017

Alexander and Leah Namdar have lived in the Swedish city of Gothenburg for 26 years, serving as emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Since there are no Jewish schools in Gothenburg, the Namdars have been homeschooling the youngest of their children. As a result, they have been involved in a six-year legal battle with the government in their efforts to be exempted from a 2010 law forbidding homeschooling, which states explicitly that exceptions will not be granted “on account of the religious or philosophical convictions of [a] family.” Sohrab Ahmari comments:

The public schools were religiously inadequate [for the Namdars] and, more importantly, physically unsafe for Jews, [given the pervasiveness of anti-Semitic attacks and harassment]. Private schools were no better. All schools, including “private” and religious schools, are government-funded in Sweden, and therefore required to accept all comers. For the Namdars, then, homeschooling was the only way to ensure their school-age children’s security and the Jewish character of their education. . . .

Throughout the [ensuing] litigation, the education board has never contested the quality of the Namdar children’s education. . . . Nor have municipal authorities been able to allay the family’s security concerns, which the Namdars argue fall under the special-circumstances exception to the anti-homeschooling rule. The city insists, however, that concerns about physical security and anti-Semitic violence don’t trigger the exception. . . . Officials have responded callously to [Rabbi Namdar’s] pleas, with one telling him last year: “Why don’t you leave the country?” . . .

The official zeal for rooting out religious homeschooling isn’t all that surprising when viewed against the backdrop of the country’s failure to integrate newcomers from Muslim lands. Swedes have good reason to worry about Islamist madrassas and other informal settings in which young Muslims are taught to hate the liberal society that has welcomed them. The city is going all out against the Namdars, I suspect, because it wants to make a show of applying the law uniformly and ruthlessly—as if to say: “See, we don’t permit the Jews to homeschool, either!”

But there is more to it than that. Nordic countries maintain narrow “opinion corridors” for acceptable ideas in the public square, and serious believers frequently find themselves locked out. Swedish authorities “don’t respect religion,” the rabbi told me. “They don’t understand that religion is part of your life. They see religion as a sort of hobby. And you either have a hobby, or you don’t.” Biblical religion is at best an amusing curiosity in this view and at worst a grave threat to secular order.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, European Islam, Freedom of Religion, Politics & Current Affairs, Secularism, Sweden

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times