DOREEN WACHMANN COLUMN
Attack on Muslims means Jews suffer

ONCE again British Jewry and its institutions are under threat in the current anti-Islamic backlash. Already shechita has been targeted because of halal practices and Ofsted came down hard on Jewish schools in the wake of last year's Islamic Trojan Horse scandal.

A couple of weeks ago, Dutch academic Machteld Zee launched her book Choosing Sharia? - Multiculturalism, Islamic Fundamentalism and Sharia Councils at the House of Lords.

In the book, which principally attacks sharia councils, Ms Zee also had a go at batei din over women's disadvantages in get proceedings.

Now with Prime Minister David Cameron's recent counter-extremism determination to review the role of British religious councils and clamp down on gender-segregated meetings, Ms Zee's views are in danger of becoming mainstream as Jewish practices and batei din will inevitably come under scrutiny alongside Muslim ones.

This backlash is already happening.

The website Islamic21C.com asks whether Cameron "will be launching his steroid-jacked, muscular liberalism against the Jewish minority?"

It wants the PM to attack "the Torah way of life" as an "infraction" of British values - not realising that the best of British values are indeed Torah-based.

The website then progresses onto the unfortunately familiar diatribe of equating Zionism with terrorism. This is the type of antisemitic hate speech which is likely to poison the Internet the more the government targets Muslims in this country.

Cameron's singling out of Muslim women as the sole group to be encouraged to have English language tuition has created much backlash from the very Muslim community he is hoping to win over to British values.

A decent knowledge of English is a necessity for anyone working in this country, irrelevant of their religion or country of origin.

I have major problems with my Polish cleaner who refuses to learn English and cannot understand my instructions unless I actually show her what to do.

There is nothing worse than hanging on the phone for ages to a large company call centre, only to be finally put through to someone whose command of the English language is totally inadequate.

This annoyance is only to be rivalled by hospital staff whose English is not adequate enough to encourage communication when patients are at their most vulnerable. Early immigrants to what is now Israel were very keen that everyone had to speak modern Hebrew, even requiring the Hebrewisation of surnames.

But all that has now changed with mass immigration from all over the world.

Despite living in Israel, immigrants tend to congregate with their own in self-imposed Anglo, French, Russian or Ethiopian ghettos. You can bring an immigrant to Israel or Britain but you cannot so easily eradicate their deep attachments to their previous communities.

Nowadays in Israel, so many Anglos - especially women - manage just fine without learning Hebrew. It may be a shame that they don't integrate more fully into Israeli culture, but they certainly do not pose a terror threat as has been inferred against British Muslim women.

But Cameron was right to highlight women's issues as a prinicipal factor in the culture clash between Western liberal values and semitic religions like Islam and Judaism.

As a feminist, I cannot but applaud the prime minister for saying "in this country, women and girls are free to choose how they live, how they dress and how they love".

But as an Orthodox Jew and as a balanced human being, I also maintain that women need to take some responsibility for their behaviour and how it might affect masculine reaction. It's just not sexually fair for women to dress and act in the most provocative manner and then cry rape when men succumb to their charms.

This is why Orthodox Judaism and radical Islam urge female modesty. I admit that, to my taste, the amount of female cover-up demanded is sometimes literally over the top. But in a supposedly tolerant country like Britain, women should be just as entitled to cover up as to expose a great deal of flesh.

A fine balance needs to be reached between urging female modesty of dress and allowing women to use their abilities in all areas of life.

On the whole, the Jewish community, including its growing charedi sector, has got it right.

Orthodox women may cover up - but not as much as their Muslim sisters - but they are encouraged to have a higher level of secular education than their brothers and enter into professional life and they do take on community leadership roles.

The Orthodox way of life is not extremism but an attempt to find a fine balance between empowering women in all areas of life, while maintaining moral family values.

This may also be the case for many Muslims. It is important that not all are tarred with the same brush and that in our supposedly tolerant society cultural differences be recognised as long as they do not actually constitute a real security threat.

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