In Exam, U.K. Pupils Asked to Explain Bias Against Jews

U.K. education secretary told the Jewish Chronicle that suggesting 'anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre.'

British high school pupils were asked to explain bias against Jews in an official religious studies exam, British media reported on Friday.

More than a thousand religious studies students sitting a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exam last Thursday, set by one of the U.K's three major examination boards, AQA, were asked, "Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.

In response, Jon Benjamin, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews: "Clearly this is unacceptable and has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews or Judaism," the U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper reported.

Education Secretary Michael Gove told the U.K.'s Jewish Chronicle that suggesting that "anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre," adding that the examination board needed to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.

He said that it was "the duty of politicians to fight prejudice, and with anti-Semitism on the rise we need to be especially vigilant."

An AQA spokesperson said in response that the question, "Acknowledges that some people hold prejudices; it does not imply in any way that prejudice is justified."

The spokesperson added that the question was part of a paper on Judaism, and that the students' syllabus on the Jewish faith "covers prejudice and discrimination with reference to race, religion and the Jewish experience of persecution," the Daily Mail reported.

"We would expect [students to refer] to the Holocaust to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating."

A former chief examiner for religious studies for another examination board, Clive Lawton, told the Jewish Chronicle that the question was worth asking.

"I do understand why people might react negatively to the question, but it is a legitimate one," he said, adding, "Part of the syllabus is that children must study the causes and origins of prejudice against Jews."

The exam regulator, Ofqual, said in response that it was taking the matter up with AQA and that it will take appropriate action if needed.

Illustration: High school students sitting an exam.
Nir Kafri