Alabama Jewish Groups Respond to ‘Inappropriate’ Display of Nazi Salute in Classroom
Footage of a Mountain Brook, Alabama, history teacher and his high school students pantomiming a Nazi-style salute in class has emerged, prompting a response from local Jewish groups, who called it “troubling.”
“We have had meaningful dialogue with Mountain Brook Schools regarding the inappropriateness of demonstrating the salute, especially in a high school classroom,” the Birmingham Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council said in a statement Tuesday. “They have assured us that they have had these same discussions with the teacher.”
“We find these types of incidents very troubling. It is our belief that they are also an opportunity for education and we hope to work closely with Mountain Brook to prevent further situations,” the Jewish groups added.
Stopantisemitism.org shared footage Monday of the January 18th incident at Mountain Brook High School, located in a Birmingham suburb, claiming that students were instructed by US history teacher Joe Webb to perform the infamous gesture while facing the American flag.
In a statement Tuesday, the Mountain Brook School System (MBSS) said that the footage has been misinterpreted, arguing that Webb was teaching a lesson on the so-called “Bellamy Salute” — named after the writer of the Pledge of Allegiance, and devised before the infamous Nazi hand gesture was adopted.
“Because of the atrocities committed by the Nazi Party against humanity, the symbol’s meaning in America changed and the American flag salute was changed to a hand over the heart in 1942,” MBSS said. “The focus of the lesson was the meaning of symbols, how they change, and why the Bellamy Salute should never again be recognized.”
Students were not instructed to use the Nazi-style salute or asked to raise their hand, MBSS asserted. “Understanding the sensitive nature of this subject, Mountain Brook Schools has
addressed the instructional strategy used with the teacher and does not condone the modeling of this salute when a picture or video could accurately convey the same message.”
According to local outlet Southern Jewish Life, one outraged Jewish student uploaded footage of the episode to his personal social media page, prompting a call to an administrator’s office.
“I was just in shock and I was confused,” Epps Tytell, told the SJL. “I was kind of sad too. I never thought I would be in a classroom where everyone would stand up and do the Heil Hitler.”
The day after Tytell posted the footage, the publication reported, Mountain Brook High School Assistant Principal Jeremy Crigger demanded he remove the clip and apologize to Webb for filming the lesson. When Tytell said he did not personally film the incident but instead received it from a classmate, Criggers pressured him to disclose who did.
Later, Webb reportedly reassigned Tytell’s desk, barred him from using his mobile phone in class, and upbraided him for refusing to apologize.
The incident occurred just months after a controversial decision by local officials to end an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) educational partnership with the Mountain Brook School System, the SJL also reported, amid objections to the group’s “No Place for Hate” curriculum and diversity training programs.
That partnership was originally aimed at addressing a May 2020 incident, in which two large swastikas and “Heil” were drawn on the back of a Mountain Brook High School student with black marker, prompting a plea from local Jewish leaders to improve anti-bias education.