Eastern suburbs schools grapple with Nazi salutes and anti-Semitic bullying
September 4, 2022
Sydney high schools are seeing a rise in anti-Semitism, with at least two in the eastern suburbs dealing with incidents of Nazi salutes and Jewish students being bullied.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the representative group for the Jewish community, has received reports of two cases of anti-Semitic bullying in Sydney’s east in the past two weeks alone, one at an elite private boys’ school and the other at a public high school.
This comes after revelations last week of a toxic culture at Knox Grammar on the north shore, where some students at the elite boys’ school used a chat room to share racist and homophobic videos and rantings on violent misogyny.
The two eastern suburbs schools had students reportedly performing regular Nazi salutes, particularly in the boys’ locker rooms and change rooms.
A grandparent at the public school provided screenshots to the Board of Deputies where students in a chat group on the Discord app sent photos of Hitler to other students, including Jewish students, accompanied by comments such as “dumb ass Jew n—-r” and “I hope your family gets gassed”.
Earlier this year, a different public high school in the eastern suburbs had the word “Hitler” graffitied on its fence, which was removed after a couple of months.
The parent at the private boys’ school said children in his son’s year group did not refer to him by name but instead called him “Jew”, made inappropriate comments, and used the Nazi salute in his presence.
“I don’t need to tell you how absolutely horrific that is, particularly for descendants of survivors of the Holocaust,” the parent told the Board of Deputies.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark warned these were the latest examples in a “systemic and cultural problem” across both private and public schools.
“We’ve seen a surge in religious bullying that’s happening of Jewish students, but particularly in the eastern suburbs,” Bark said.
“It’s obviously devastating to the students, but it has this broad effect on families as well, especially for descendants of Holocaust survivors.”
The eastern suburbs is home to most of Sydney’s Jewish population. In the 2021 census, less than 1 per cent of residents of Greater Sydney answered Judaism on the religious affiliation question, but this figure was 16 per cent in the Waverley local government area, 14 per cent in Woollahra, and 4 per cent in Randwick.
Various reports suggest anti-Semitism has been rising globally, and Australia is no exception. Figures put out by the Board’s Community Security Group show 490 anti-Semitic incidents in Australia in 2021, a 38 per cent rise on 2020. More than half of these incidents occurred in NSW.
Bark said the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a rise in cyber-bullying, as reported by The Sun-Herald, and this was now spilling over into the playground.
However, he said both students and parents were sometimes reluctant to report because of a “snitches get stitches” culture.
Professor Suzanne Rutland of the University of Sydney and Professor Zehavit Gross of Bar-Ilan University in Israel last week launched the results of a four-year investigation of Australian government schools, which found widespread religious bullying affecting Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish students.
The anti-Semitic bullying uncovered by the academics included throwing money on the ground and taunting Jewish students to pick it up, and waving scissors around in the classroom and asking Jewish boys if they “want another brit” (circumcision).
The Board of Deputies has chosen not to name the schools because the problems were widespread and they were engaging with schools directly over specific incidents.
The headmaster of the private school said, in an anonymous statement provided to The Sun-Herald via the Board of Deputies, that “this pernicious activity” must be tackled and eradicated.
“I can confirm actions taken so far have included strengthening our formal and informal education on the matter, briefing staff and students, and building alliances with external organisations such as yourselves,” he said.
However, the student at the private school whose family made the complaint reportedly said the behaviour was continuing even after the school recently held a session explaining to the year group that the behaviour was grossly inappropriate and would not be tolerated.
He told his parents he felt “upset and powerless and sick of it”. He said everyone in his year group who knows he is Jewish spoke to him this way, except for his close friends, while they do not target anyone who is not Jewish. He had spoken to other Jewish students in his year and they were all receiving the same treatment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said it was concerned about the reported behaviour of religion-based racism in any school and would take strong disciplinary action against any student or staff member found to be engaged in racist or discriminatory behaviour.