20 Jan 2012
Britain’s largest Jewish school has been attacked by its own pupils for running a lesson featuring a group that claims homosexuality can be “cured”.
Sixth-formers at the Jewish Free School in Kenton, north London say Jonah – Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality – was mentioned at the end of class without any discussion of the controversy over the US group.
Jonah promotes the idea that homosexuality can be “mitigated and potentially eliminated” and sends participants on retreats such as Journey into Manhood. It has run sessions in the UK.
The Jonah website was introduced at the end of a lesson on homosexuality and the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint. One student, who did not wanted to named, said: “We discussed whether someone chooses to be gay or not. Then we looked at Orthodox Judaism, which condemns homosexuality.
“The last slide on the PowerPoint was a picture and a link to the Jonah website after we discussed what gay Orthodox Jews can do if they hate themselves.”
The student said there was no discussion of the controversy around gay “conversion”. He added: “I was appalled. It felt like it was saying, ‘If you are having doubts, check this out’.”
Another pupil said: “If I were gay or worrying about my sexuality, sitting in that lesson, I would have been so upset. Most people were offended by it.”
Rabbi David Mitchell, of West London Synagogue, said: “I find it distressing that this group was referred to as part of a Jewish studies lesson without referring to the damage Jonah has done.”
Keshet UK, the lesbian, gay and transgender forum, whose co-chairman Dave Shaw is an ex-Jewish Free School pupil, was “appalled” at the claims.
The school’s headteacher Jonathan Miller said: “It is absolutely not the case that we promote Jonah. The teaching materials explicitly state that Judaism would utterly condemn homophobia and discrimination.
“The website is referred to at the end of the lesson, as another opinion, ‘some Jews think this’, to leave students with food for thought.”
He said the school was looking into the issue of when the website should appear during the lesson.
The school denied it had taught homosexuality can be “cured” or that the teacher promoted or endorsed the views of JONAH. It claimed the group was mentioned as part of a discussion on different attitudes to homosexuality.
JFS headteacher Jonathan Miller said: “We’re extremely troubled that a teacher’s reference to one of a number of religious perspectives on homosexuality, in the context of classroom discussion and debate, has been portrayed as some sort of endorsement of that view. In fact, no such endorsement was given or even implied.”