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Classmates turn from friends to attackers after boy reveals he is Jewish

Case illustrates long history of antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children.

    (Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule)

    A Jewish family in Berlin has pulled their teenage son from a state school after nearly four months of antisemitic harassment, both verbal and physical, the boy’s mother has told the JC.

    Emma, who is British, said her son, Phillip (not their real names), 14, had been moved to an English language high school in Berlin .

    Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural.

    She said it had never occurred to Phillip to deny his Jewishness, and one day he mentioned it to his classmates.

    One of them responded: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.”

    The verbal abuse escalated to physical violence, until earlier this month, “when he was attacked and almost strangled, and the guy pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken.”

    “It was terrible,” Phillip said, “but I didn’t have time to think what’s happening at the time. Now when i look back, I think, oh my God.”

    Emma said she decided then and there that “I am not sending him to this school any more, and that was it.”

    She had spoken to the principal, Uwe Runkel, about introducing an organisation to the school that could work with children to educate them about antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia. Her in-laws, who are Holocaust survivors, have talked to pupils there.

    The principal “made all the right noises” but did nothing, she said.

    When contacted by the JC, Mr Runkel said he regretted the antisemitic bullying of Phillip. He added he had hoped to help the student feel safe and also to make perpetrators face the consequences of their actions, but that obviously “for the parents it wasn’t fast enough”.

    He said “a general approach in the school to antisemitism” was clearly needed, and was being developed.

    The case underscores concerns that educators and parents have expressed for years in Berlin about the antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children.

    Berlin’s Jewish high school receives between six and 10 applications a year from parents who want to move their children away from schools where they are being subjected to antisemitic harassment, said Aaron Eckstaedt, principal of the Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin.

    The requests generally are “in reaction to antisemitic statements coming overwhelmingly from Arabic or Turkish classmates,” he said, adding that “in most cases, the families complain about the relative lack of response from state schools” to the problem.

    There are several organisations in Berlin that work with schools in an effort to combat antisemitism and xenophobia, including the Kreuzberg Initiative Against Antisemitism and the Salaam-Schalom initiative, a loose group of volunteers.

    A co-founder of the latter group, Armin Langer, said his group “always sends a Jewish and a Muslim member to the classes. If there is a case of antisemitism, we recommend to get in touch with local Jewish groups and invite them over. Breaking the walls begins with personal encounters,” he said.

    Some studies have shown that antisemitic views are more common among young Muslims than among other groups in Germany. In 2007, researchers Katrin Brettfeld and Peter Wetzels interviewed 500 Muslim pupils in Germany and found that 17.5 percent believed that “people of Jewish faith are arrogant and greedy”, compared to 7.4 per cent among non-Muslim immigrant children and 5.4 per cent in the non-immigrant German population.

    As for Phillip, he would not necessarily recommend that other children reveal their Jewishness to classmates unless it’s “a nice, quiet school.”

    See here for an update.

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