Judges lacking judgment

This post was written by Jacob on June 25, 2009
Posted Under: Communities,Education,Identity,Jewishness,Minorities,Public Sector,Racism/Fascism,Religion

There was an interesting judgment relating to faith schools today. The Jewish Free School was told by three senior judges that its admissions procedures were illegal, as the test of ethnicity amounted to racial discrimination. Now, I’ll start by saying that I think all state-funded faith schools are a fucking terrible idea. There’s absolutely no reason why our tax money should be wasted on indoctrinating kids rather than teaching them to think. But this is somewhat beside the point, as the fight against faith schools is long and hard, and here I want to consider this particular ruling. On first reading about this story, it sounded like a very good thing. The fact that there will no longer be kids being discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic origins is always a good thing

But there was also something rather worrying in the judgment: “The three judges – Lords Justice Sedley and Rimer, and Lady Justice Smith – said it was clear that Jews constituted a racial group defined principally by ethnic origin and additionally by conversion.” Those of us who spend our lives fighting against racism, both in theory and in practice, spend a great deal of time debunking the entire concept of “race”, so for judges to be making statements like this now is a huge step back. In fact, the movement from discussion of ethnicity to discussion of race here implies that these judges are quite happy, it seems, to use the terms interchangeably. So what happened to all those old arguments, all the ones that said that it was exactly this act of defining people racially that was racist.

The fact that racists use the rhetoric of race to explain what they do does not mean that in considering the actions of racists we should buy into their definitions. It is not necessary to define Jews, or any people, as a race, to show that some are being oppressed. Whilst this judgment is a good thing, and will have good effects, one can only see comments like that made by the judges playing into the hands of the right. If we are to be serious about defeating racism then we have to do away with the entire mode of thought, and not simply its concrete consequences.

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Reader Comments


One of the curiosities of law is how unscientific and unphilosophical legal definitions often are. They are built up in case law to be pragmatic and stable, rather than refined. It’s an interesting phenomenon how this linguistic unevenness impacts on social understanding of the law, and indeed of the concepts themselves.

Written By Tendai on June 26th, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

I really wanted to use your blog for my report in school. Because of your lack in judgment concerning fowl language using; now I cannot.


Written By Marah on August 18th, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

Marah, personally I don’t see the point of using gratuitous foul language in a serious comment piece. Unless there’s a really good reason for it, I think it tends to detract from quality. Other writers feel differently. However, you’re very welcome to quote our blog in your school report. With the author’s permission, I’m sure you can feel free to edit out the foul language.

Written By Salman Shaheen on August 18th, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

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