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June 2, 2022 12:53 pm

‘Adults Weren’t Taking Me Seriously’: Student Details Antisemitic Bullying in Suit Against Melbourne School

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The skyline of Melbourne, Australia, the capital of Victoria. Photo: Alex Proimos/Wikimedia Commons.

Harrowing details of antisemitic bullying and violence were revealed in an Australian federal court this week, as a civil trial to determine whether Melbourne’s Brighton Secondary College violated the Racial Discrimination Act continued.

Legal action against the school was announced in November, continuing a saga that began in 2020, when five of its former Jewish students came forward accusing administrators of ignoring antisemitic discrimination and fostering a “prison culture” that violated their human rights.

According to The Age, an Australian daily, on Thursday, former Brighton student Liam Arnold-Levy testified that no action was taken after someone punched him in the stomach and threatened to slit his throat, nor when others called him “Jewboy,” “f***ing Jew,” and told him to “die in an oven.” In another incident, a school official allegedly accused him of “being dramatic” when a group of female students “violently” pushed him.

“I was made to feel I shouldn’t be proud of who I am,” Arnold-Levy said, noting that his tormentors became more aggressive after he began wearing a kippah and tzitzit. “Those people who made me feel this way got no punishment for the way they treated me.”

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Arnold-Levy also said that pledges to apprise the principal of the incidents weren’t fulfilled, telling the court, “It felt so much worse that adults weren’t taking me seriously … and that the students were able to get away with such violence and hatred.”

“No reaction to the fact that a knife had been held up to a student’s throat,” he continued. “There was no urgency, no concern, nothing. It made me feel possibly a million times worse. The extent of the attacks [had] gotten so bad and that didn’t even provoke a response from the school. Nothing.”

Arnold-Levy said that it was only when he transferred to a private Jewish school that he was granted a meeting with Brighton principal Richard Minack, who, during their conversation, said that he did not know that Arnold-Levy had been bullied and maintained that he should not be blamed for the severity.

Arnold-Levy added that the abuse he endured caused him to develop an anxiety disorder that, The Age reported, leads to panic attacks and nerve damage.

On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that the students’ attorney, Adam Butt, presented evidence in court that Minack gave pro-Nazi speeches in which he described Jews as “subhuman, evil, [and] the N-word.”

Butt also argued that Brighton had a “normalized culture of antisemitism” and that students graffitied swastikas on school property and their own hands.

“Four out of my five clients had to leave Brighton part way though the school year because the hostile school environment was intolerable,” Butt said. “They didn’t feel like they could be openly Jewish at the school.”

Jewish parents were “disappointed” when Victoria’s department of education issued in November 2020 a report on antisemitic bullying at Brighton that absolved school officials of responsibility for what Jewish students experienced. The report did recommend several reforms — including an online form for reporting antisemitic bullying, a cleanup crew for hasty removal of antisemitic graffiti, and extending protections against harassment to address religious discrimination — but families of the students said it was insufficient.

“The families do not believe that the report and its findings go in any way far enough toward combating a significant problem of antisemitism at Brighton Secondary College, nor does it provide an acceptable outcome for justice for them,” student attorney Jane McCullough told The Australian Jewish News at the time.

Brighton Secondary College has denied the accusations against it and has, according to SBS News, only acknowledged that the students were subjected to “some” antisemitic incidents and that they were “to the best of the (principal and teachers’) knowledge … small in number and done by a small number of students.”

Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, a Jewish community organization, told SBS that antisemitism in Australian schools is pervasive and “can’t be brushed aside or ignored.”

“The last thing we want is to get to a state whereby Jewish students will have to hide their Jewish identity in order to avoid being targeted, bullied, intimidated and harassed simply for being who they are,” he said.

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