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Op-eds

Public schools ‘Jew free’ following rampant anti-Semitism

  • DrYvetteAltMiller
“Jewish cockroach!” “Jewish vermin!” These hate-filled taunts were directed at a five-year-old Jewish boy in Melbourne, Australia, who had just started kindergarten in his local public school.
by Dr YVETTE ALT MILLER | Oct 10, 2019

Each time the little boy went to the bathroom, he found himself confronted with a group of hostile children who taunted him for being Jewish and screamed insults at him. The boy began wetting himself at school and home, and didn’t want to go to school. Finally, one recent morning, he spilled his breakfast cereal, then broke down completely.

“He literally fell down on the floor,” his distraught mother told an Australian Jewish newspaper recently. The boy cried, “Mummy, you shouldn’t love me. I’m a worthless, Jewish rodent. I’m vermin.” Horrified, his mother comforted him, then called the school to let it know the horrible abuse her son was receiving.

Incredibly, instead of taking her complaint seriously, the school was “dismissive” and ignored the anti-Semitic elements of the bullying. Instead of addressing the anti-Jewish hatred in their school, school authorities suggested the boy use a different bathroom. Within a day, the anti-Semitic bullying repeated itself. The five-year-old has been diagnosed with acute anxiety, and is now being home schooled.

At the same time, another shocking case of anti-Jewish bullying in a Melbourne public institution is finally coming to light. A 12-year-old student at Cheltenham Secondary College was lured to a sports field to play games, then confronted by a group of nine other boys, aged 12 and 13. The students ordered the Jewish boy to bow down and kiss the feet of a Muslim student or else be beaten up.

The Jewish boy did bow and kiss his classmate’s feet. The humiliating encounter was filmed and shared widely on social media for months. During that time, the boy endured months of misery, with students routinely calling him “Jewish ape” and worse offensive slurs. He was physically attacked, punched in the face, and required a hospital visit. He has been diagnosed with acute anxiety. When his mother complained to the school, the authorities were similarly dismissive, saying at first that since the original attack didn’t happen on the school grounds, there was little they could do.

Australian authorities have expressed “concern” in recent days, but some Jewish parents in Melbourne are feeling abandoned. “Essentially, everyone’s solution to this problem is to send your child to a Jewish day school,” the mother of the bullied five year old told reporters. “Do we live in a society where we really have to do that in order to be safe?”

Increasingly, the answer seems to be yes, not only in Melbourne, but in cities and countries around the world, where attending local public schools is no longer safe for Jewish students.

In France, the first official warning that rampant anti-Semitism in public schools was driving Jewish students away came in an official government report in 2004. Teachers and inspectors warned that Muslim students were beating and harassing Jewish students. Instead of tackling the violence and intimidation head on, many French public schools were ducking the issue, the report warned.

“There are hardly any Jewish children left in state schools. The teachers can’t stick up for them,” Haim Musicant, the vice-president of B’nai B’rith in France recently confirmed. Across France, Jewish students are increasingly choosing Jewish schools. So great is the demand that some Jewish families aren’t able to secure places in local Jewish schools for their kids. Many families - accounting for a whopping 5 000 Jewish students in Paris alone - have resorted to another option, sending their children to Catholic schools, where they say there is less anti-Jewish bullying from Arab and Muslim students.

In neighbouring Belgium, public schools are now virtually “Jew free” after a series of high-profile attacks on Jewish students. In 2016, a Belgian Jewish schoolboy was injured after a crowd of fellow students surrounded him, spraying him with spray cans in what they said was an attempt to “gas” him like Jews in the Holocaust. When the student’s mother complained, she said the teacher in charge “downplayed” the incident.

That same year, another high-profile case of a Jewish student identified only as “Samuel” in the Belgian press brought national attention to anti-Semitic violence in an affluent public school in the wealthy Brussels neighbourhood of Uccle. Samuel’s mother said that she had enrolled him in a public school because she wanted him to meet people from diverse backgrounds. When word got out that Samuel was a Jew, the students turned on him. He was beaten up and called epithets, often by Muslim students. School officials did little, and Samuel’s mother eventually sent him to a Jewish school to escape the bullying.

In 2017, Germany had an anguished national dialogue about anti-Semitic bullying in schools after one Berlin family went public with their son’s experiences at his local public school. On the boy’s fourth day of school, in a class on ethics, the teacher asked students to share which houses of worship they’d visited. When the student said he’d been in a synagogue, a strange silence settled on the class as he explained he was Jewish. “Everyone was shocked, especially the teachers,” the student later recalled. Afterwards, one teacher told him he’d been “very brave” to admit being Jewish.

Following that, the student endured intense bullying. His grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, visited the school to share his experiences, hoping that would stop the abuse directed at his grandson. If anything, the anti-Jewish bullying got worse. Finally, the parents, Gemma and Wenzel Michalski, took their story to the press. In the weeks that followed, dozens of other instances of anti-Jewish hatred and attacks in German public schools came out.

In Britain, about 70% of Jewish students aged four to 18 now attend Jewish schools. That number is rising rapidly, and increased 12% in the past year alone.

French law prohibits gathering statistics about religious choices, but anecdotal evidence suggests a surge in Jewish families choosing Jewish schools. Elodie Mariano, the co-founder of the non-profit group Choisir L’Ecole Juive says her organisation has helped more than 400 French families shift their children from public schools to Jewish schools in France in recent years. “Often these families are not particularly religious,” she says.

Likewise in Australia, observers note that more and more Jewish families are looking at Jewish schools.

This upsurge in Jewish education and identity is perhaps the most fitting answer to anti-Semites. For many Jewish families, the choice to give their children a Jewish education is a resounding victory over the anti-Semites whose hatred is turning too many schools into no-go zones for Jews.

Dr Yvette Alt Miller earned her Bachelor of Arts at Harvard University. She completed a postgraduate diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

This piece originally appeared on aish.com

1 Comment

  1. 1 Gavin Queit 18 Oct
    In response to the above article, I do want to fill you in on what occurred when the Melbourne incidents were made public.

    The State and Federal Governments issued strong condemnations of the behaviour. In addition this was extensively covered in the our largest newspapers. The editorials in both major newspapers came out in strong condemnation of the incidents.

    It was also heartening to see that peoples comments under the online articles as well as sentiment on talk radio also strongly supported the kids and were horrified at the antisemitic behaviour.

    Importantly, it is the communal leadership's position that antisemitism is not just a Jewish Community problem, it is society's problem as a whole and as such society as a whole should be standing up against such behaviour.

    If we can draw a positive from what occurred, it is that society in general, all the way up to the highest political leadership in Australia have spoken up for the Jewish community, and this is as it should be.

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