Haredi Jews in Britain Face Their Own Showdown with the Government over Schooling

As in both the U.S. and Israel, some Orthodox Jews in the UK worry that their schools will face governmental scrutiny for deviating from standard curricula. What is particular about the British case is that Ḥasidim are not only concerned about the introduction of secular studies, but also about sex-education requirements imposed by the Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted), the official body responsible for overseeing schools. Simon Rocker writes:

The government is looking to close a loophole whereby institutions such as yeshivot that teach an exclusive religious curriculum do not count as schools under the current legal definition and therefore escape Ofsted scrutiny. An estimated 1,500 strictly Orthodox teenagers of school age in Hackney—below the age of sixteen—are thought to be enrolled in yeshivot where they pursue purely Jewish studies.

If the Schools Bill [put before parliament, and likely to be tabled for the time being], were passed, yeshivot would be treated as independent schools and required to teach some secular subjects, as well as relationships and sex education, including LGBT awareness. Ofsted would get new powers to investigate unregistered institutions and home-schooled children would have to be registered with the local authority.

Defenders of the yeshivot argue that their educational system produces well-adjusted, law-abiding citizens, whose wits have been sharpened by years immersed in the classical education of Talmud; and that their youth can always take career-oriented training after they emerge from yeshivah. They will also point to efforts to improve secular tuition in strictly Orthodox primary schools in recent years (efforts, it has to be said, that have followed pressure from Ofsted). . . .

However, the demands of relationships and sex education remain a red line that only strengthens the resolve not to bow to the state. So far there has been no indication the government is willing to budge. As one senior education official in a council explained it to me, teaching about LGBT identity is a matter of safeguarding so that children who might experience feelings of difference might receive sympathetic treatment. Yet it could be argued that compelling ḥaredi schools to raise this in the classroom might not be the best way to support such children within those communities.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anglo-Jewry, Haredim, Hasidism, Jewish education

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood