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‘My Child Doesn’t Want to be Jewish Anymore’: Dutch Education Ministry Urged to Clamp Down on ‘Free Palestine’ Antisemitic Bullying

avatar by Ben Cohen

Demonstrators in central Amsterdam during a ‘Free Palestine’ protest on May 16, 2021. Photo: William Lounsbury/Hans Lucas/Reuters

A Dutch parliamentarian is demanding that the Ministry of Education in The Netherlands take urgent measures to combat antisemitism in schools, following the publication of a shocking article that exposed the antisemitic bullying which some Jewish students suffered during the armed conflict in May between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza.

In a letter delivered on Tuesday to Dutch education ministers Arie Slob and Ingrid van Engelshoven, the conservative parliamentarian Roelof Bisschop pointedly asked whether they were aware of the June 14 article in the Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad, a Dutch Jewish newspaper, that was headlined “My child doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore.”

Through interviews with parents whose names were changed to protect their identities, the article by journalist Esther Voet presented in disturbing detail the ordeals experienced by several Jewish children attending different public schools in The Netherlands.

One Israeli-born mother of three teenagers, who gave her name as “Anna,” said that her two youngest children felt compelled to hide the fact that they are Jews, because of the vilification of Israel by classmates, often with the knowledge of their teachers.

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“My middle child just changed schools and hasn’t told anyone there that he’s Jewish,” Anna said. “When classmates ask him why he has such a Jewish first name, he replies that it is a Mormon, Biblical name.”

She went on to express concern that her youngest child “has the worst insults” thrown at her.

“‘Your mother is Israeli, your family kills people and your mother does that too,’ they yelled at her,” Anna said. “I kept her at home for two days after that, she was so depressed.”

Anna said that her daughter had told her she no longer wants to identify as Jewish. “‘Mama,’ she said when she got home one day, ‘I want to convert to Catholicism,'” Anna recalled. “‘From now on I no longer want presents for Hanukkah, but for Christmas.’ I tried to persuade her that being Jewish can also be fun, but I couldn’t convince her.”

Another parent, who gave her name as “Judith,” said that her son, previously a top athlete at his school, had withdrawn from sports after a locker room incident in which another student asked, in an intimidating manner, whether there were any Jews present. During the fighting in Gaza, her son resignedly told her, “Mom, everyone is really very much against Israel. At school, on social media, everyone. It won’t get any better.”

Judith explained that despite her desire to visit the school and address the problems faced by her son, he had not wanted her to do so.

“I would like to go to the school to discuss this, but he stops me,” she said. “I also don’t want to apologize to third parties for Israel’s actions. I don’t want to say, ‘I don’t agree with what Israel is doing’. Israel is very restrained in my eyes and it is unjustly reviled. I now think every day about leaving the Netherlands. Only caring for my elderly mother is holding me back.”

Another Israeli mother, who gave her name as “Merav,” said that her daughter, Tali, had been pressured by classmates into giving her opinion on the conflict. When Tali responded that she supported Israel without agreeing with all of its actions, this remark was shared on social media, resulting in the comment, “they should have gassed her.”

Merav reflected that the fear instilled in Dutch Jewish school students was the result of “a process that has been going on for a long time.”

“When Tali was still in primary school, we always had a friend of hers over here,” she elaborated. “He often sat at the Shabbat table with us. Until he suddenly became one of the biggest name-callers and started yelling ‘c__ Jew’ at her. When I confronted his parents about it, I got no response.”

In his letter to the Dutch education ministry, member of parliament Bisschop pressed the officials to clarify “whether the situation for Jewish students is not safe enough for them to attend school.” He also asked whether the ministry was willing to finance educational initiatives to counter antisemitism in schools.

The reports of antisemitic bullying came as CIDI, a Dutch Jewish organization that monitors antisemitism, disclosed that antisemitic incidents had reached a “new peak” during the May conflict.

In an opinion piece in the latest edition of the Dutch weekly EW, Aron Vieler — CIDI’s policy officer — recounted the experience of another Jewish school student who was told it was “too bad” she hadn’t been gassed by the Nazis. On another occasion, she was called a “dirty Jew,” while her friends were bullied into cutting contact with her.

“Remarkably similar incidents have been reported from several schools,” Vieler wrote. “Everyone noticed that it started exactly the day after the weekend of anti-Israel demonstrations in the major cities, on May 16 and 17.”

He continued: “The bullying behavior remains under the radar, because children mainly feel obliged to solve their problems independently, to not be pathetic and certainly not to ‘whine.’ Dutch sobriety stands in the way of understanding what exactly is going on.”

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