VICTORIA’S Education Minister James Merlino has ordered an “immediate review” into how two Melbourne schools responded to alleged incidents of antisemitic bullying, following yesterday’s exclusive report in The AJN.
In a story that has since made international headlines, we revealed how a five-year-old Jewish student at Hawthorn West Primary School was allegedly subjected to four months of antisemitic taunts which resulted in him wetting himself in class, while a 12-year-old student at Cheltenham Secondary College was bullied into kissing the feet of a Muslim child in a park and was subsequently physically assaulted.
In both cases, the parents of the children felt they had no choice but to remove their children from the schools, which they claimed failed to adequately address their concerns.
The family of the 12-year-old, meanwhile, met with the family of the Muslim boy involved who were “blown away” when they learnt of the incident.
It is understood that the father emigrated to Australia from Turkey as a young child and faced racism as a Muslim in primary school.
“To see his son participate in hatred towards a Jew really didn’t sit well with him,” the Jewish boy’s mother told The AJN.
“We wanted to show the boys that, putting antisemitism aside, Muslims and Jews can cohabit and live as one in society, and shouldn’t be discriminated against based on our religion.”
In a statement to The AJN on Friday morning, Merlino said, “I utterly condemn antisemitism and it is absolutely not tolerated in any of our schools. Every child should feel safe and happy when they are at school.
“Following a series of incidents, including antisemitic comments, a student at Cheltenham SC was suspended by the school.
“However, I am still very concerned by the parents’ reports and I have asked for an immediate review into how both schools have handled these matters, to ensure they were dealt with appropriately.”
Merlino added that he will be immediately contacting the families involved in both of the incidents to meet with them, as well as the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) as soon as possible.
“If further changes are necessary to guard against antisemitism and the impact it can have on our community we stand ready to make them,” he said.
Labelling both cases as “disgraceful”, the State Member for Caulfield, David Southwick penned a letter to Merlino late yesterday, calling for urgent intervention to ensure a full independent investigation is conducted into both incidents and for an explanation of further protection measures that will be put in place to ensure the safety of children from different religious and ethnic backgrounds in Victorian state schools.
Southwick also called for an urgent meeting between the ADC, himself and the Department of Education and Training Victoria to review implementing antisemitic and bullying education programs in these and other schools in which similar incidents have been reported.
The AJN understands that more than a dozen other cases of antisemitic bullying in state schools have come to light since yesterday’s report was published.