Father at centre of JFS row expresses 'relief'

By Robyn Rosen, December 16, 2009

The father of the child at the centre of the JFS Supreme Court ruling has spoken of his “relief” at today’s decision.

The father, known as E for legal reasons, appealed to the High Court after his 12-year-old son (Child M) was refused a place at JFS because his mother was a non-Orthodox convert.

Today, JFS lost its appeal over its admissions procedure on the grounds of direct discrimination by a majority of five to four at the Supreme Court.

E said: “I believe it's important for people to know that the same Race Relations Act that provides such valued protection for Jews, as well as others, from ill judged or misguided prejudices also provides for the fair and equal treatment of all children within our educational system.

“It is very important to see that this essential protection, a milestone of our society, was not mistakenly discarded by divisive views which can naturally occur from time to time within all communities.

“The Jewish community, which has long endeavoured to enshrine fairness and care for others, will be relieved at heart that this minor discord will be put aside and that we, like all God's children and people of true feeling can pull together again and work to make a better and fairer world for all.”

John Halford, who specialises in public and discrimination law and represented E, said that the ruling allowed schools to prioritise families who were devout in their practi c e rather than by their religious lineage .

He said: “The ruling represents a definitive end to six decades of exclusion of children who are devout in their Jewish faith, but considered by some to be not quite Jewish enough to enjoy the benefits of their community’s leading faith school.

“There has been considerable criticism from some sectors of the Jewish community that this case was ever brought. Perhaps that is understandable, but it has to be remembered that JFS’ admissions policy had been in place for 56 years, and during that time has caused untold anguish for those who, like child M, experienced rejection on the grounds of being insufficiently Jewish as a brutal assault on their identity.

“Those excluded include the children of families whose Orthodox conversions in Israel have been adjudged invalid and even include descendants of concentration camp survivors unable to prove their lineage.

“Attempts to settle this litigation were not fruitful and ultimately, only a court can decide whether descent-based discrimination should be permitted or not.

“The Supreme Court has done so today in a way that shows appropriate respect for religious freedom whilst acknowledging that achieving meaningful racial equality is a critical social goal in the UK.

“The ruling is also an unprecedented opportunity for community reconciliation and consensus on the future provision of Jewish education.

“Jewish faith schools can now decide to prioritise applications from families who are sincere in their faith or even from those who sincerely seek a Jewish education for their children.

“Either way, the outcome should be inclusive, rather than arbitrary and divisive as JFS’ past policy has been.”

Last updated: 2:11pm, December 16 2009