THE Victorian Department of Education has launched a full investigation following allegations of “horrific” antisemitic bullying levelled against students and teachers at a state secondary school.
The incidents are said to have occurred over the past five years at Brighton Secondary College experienced by two Jewish brothers, who only now feel able to voice their alleged ordeal since recently leaving the school.
The bullying claims include daily verbal abuse; physical harassment when the older Jewish brother was constantly victimised for wearing a kippah, which was forcibly removed from his head and desecrated; teachers who would not acknowledge the children’s Israeli identity, instead labelling the boys “Palestinian”; cyberbullying and threats of stalking.
There is no place for racial harassment in our community, and it cannot stand. It is extremely disappointing to hear of anti-semitism at Brighton Secondary and swift action should be taken: https://t.co/NuTXvuzyEA
— Tim Wilson MP (@TimWilsonMP) July 8, 2020
The boys and their mother claim they made countless reports to teachers, coordinators and the principal over the years, but they say no serious action has ever been taken. The mother also says she reported one incident to the Department of Education, but she did not receive a response.
The alleged incidents began when the older brother entered year 7. He was promptly given the nicknames “Jewboy” and “the Jew”. The names stayed with him throughout his time at the school. Classmates would also throw coins on the ground, and say, “Look, the Jew will pick it up.”
In year 8, while walking home one afternoon, a fellow student approached him and told him to, “Get in my oven.” Another threatened to stalk him. A few weeks later, the Jewish student received a Hitler propaganda video sent to his school email address from an anonymous sender, captioned with the words, “Heil Hitler, Sieg Heil”.
They were words allegedly hurled often at the Jewish boy and his younger brother, both in the classroom and the playground.
While the email was sent through the school’s server, when it was reported, the school was apparently slow to act, with the family of the Jewish boy left with the task of identifying the culprit.
In year 9, after two years of bullying, the older brother decided to wear a kippah – “because I wanted to say, I’m Jewish and I’m proud. It was a symbolic thing to say I don’t care what people are doing.”
But, he said every day his kippah was ripped from his head by students, thrown around “like a frisbee” and stomped on the ground.
“I had people coming up and touching my head, and the teachers wouldn’t do anything. It was hard for me. Everyone thought it was a normal thing to do,” he said, adding it was not just his classmates that bullied him for his kippah, with a teacher allegedly scolding him, “You can’t wear your hat indoors.”
Enough is enough. Schools should be safe places to teach kids about different cultures to combat racism and antisemitism but instead our Victorian education system has enabled this shocking behaviour to occur. #Springst @aus_jewishnews https://t.co/lTZSZH4HLM
— David Southwick (@SouthwickMP) July 9, 2020
The boy said that he spoke to the teacher after class, but was told, “‘That’s just a joke, you should know that.’
“To me, having a teacher do that made me feel like I had no power. Because I had students doing it, and then I have a teacher doing it. Who can I talk to? Who will take this seriously?” said the Jewish student.
He told of another bully who would pick up and throw dirt at him and say, “‘Look, I found your ancestors. I found your grandma.’
“To have grandparents who were there in the Holocaust, who had to run, and who lost so much family … I don’t think it can be described in words how I feel about it,” he shared.
Sometimes the incidents also became physical. After telling a student his antisemitic jokes were not okay, the Jewish boy said he was shoved, and so he pushed back. It resulted in an altercation.
“I got suspended for three days. When I told teachers about what was said before, their response was it doesn’t matter what led to the incident, it’s what I did. The other kid got a lunchtime suspension.”
Indeed, the younger brother also had issues with teachers. He alleges that two teachers referred to him and other Israeli children as “Palestinian”.
“This was reported to the principal. He didn’t do anything,” he said.
The younger brother alleged a teacher would refer to Israel as “Palestine”, and would tell him to take off his Magen David necklace in class – despite allowing Christian students to wear their crosses. He said that when given a class assignment to write on a famous leader and he chose Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the teacher “said no, because that is Palestine”.
The younger brother also allegedly encountered relentless antisemitic taunts, witnessed a student draw swastikas on pieces of paper, and throw them at Jewish students in the class and had a classmate draw a Nazi flag around his thumb and perform Nazi salutes. He said that when his class studied the text Maus, the antisemitic taunts “went to another level” – even in class – but his teacher did nothing. Both brothers attest to swastikas being drawn on walls around the school, and the bathroom, often being left, or taking months to be removed.
The younger brother estimates that over the past four years, he has encountered 10-12 major antisemitic bullies, “plus random kids who yell ‘Heil Hitler’ in the yard”; he says he has made 20-25 teachers (including coordinators and the principal) aware of the situation, and reported incidents so many times he has lost count. And yet, nothing changed.
Despite being seriously ill throughout the past few years, the mother of the boys told The AJN she issued numerous complaints, calling the school after each incident, “and we never got told of any outcomes. No student or teacher has ever said ‘sorry’.”
SHE added, “When you send your kids to school and you’re sick, you want to trust that the school will look after your children, and this shouldn’t happen.
“We’re in zoned schools and I can’t afford a private school. It’s really difficult. And then because I’m always sick …
“But I can’t fight anymore. And I feel like a bad mum for not protecting them.”
And her boys are tired too.
The younger brother shared, “Fighting it on my own is so draining. Every day when I get home, I just want to go to sleep. But the school doesn’t care, so you go around in circles. It feels very hopeless.”
His older brother agreed, “It has taken a fair toll on my mental health. It makes me feel sad, because I know there are quite a few Jews in Brighton and how many others is this happening to? And how many may not be able to cope with it?”
The allegations come nine months after The AJN exposed antisemitic bullying at Cheltenham Secondary College and Hawthorn West Primary School.
Of the new claims, Education Minister James Merlino said, “As soon as we became aware of these disturbing allegations, we commenced a full investigation. I want to get to the bottom of exactly what has happened here to ensure they were dealt with appropriately.”
He reiterated a “zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism”, adding, “These accusations are extremely serious and I will not stand for this kind of behaviour.
“We are already implementing actions and reforms to ensure all of our schools respond appropriately to reports of antisemitism, and that Jewish students and their family feel supported and safe in our schools.”
The department has said the investigation will be completed within four weeks – although at the time of print, the mother was yet to be contacted by anyone to inform her that the investigation had been initiated.
Brighton Secondary College principal Richard Minack is no stranger to controversy. Last year, he was slammed after using the word ‘n*****’ in a school assembly to highlight insidious racism following the Christchurch terror attack.
He subsequently explained, “Sometimes we have to use offensive words to explain why they are offensive.”
Questioned by The AJN over the claims of bullying at the school, Minack said, “On occasions, the school has become aware of some students exhibiting completely unacceptable antisemitic behaviours.
I was shocked to read the allegations in the linked article. I have been informed that a full investigation was commenced as soon as our Education Minister became aware of the disturbing allegations. @JamesMerlinoMP https://t.co/AcUH8Gm8L2
— Nina Taylor MP (@NinaTaylorMP) July 9, 2020
“We do not tolerate antisemitism or any other form of discrimination at Brighton Secondary College.
“Brighton Secondary College acknowledges the seriousness of these allegations and will cooperate fully with the department’s investigation.”
First contacted by the family, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission Dr Dvir Abramovich called the allegations “a horrific and depressing story of antisemitic harassment”, and “symptomatic of something very troubling that is taking place in Victoria, and is another example of what happens when antisemitism spirals out of control and is allowed to grow toxic and unchecked”.
He said, “This is unacceptable and cannot stand.”