AMSTERDAM (Apr. 30)
Jonathan and Ilan, both 13, just can’t get used to cries of “filthy kikes,” even though they say they hear them every day at school.
Avigal, 8, was told that “Jews suck” and that she should have her throat cut.
Dutch Jews, estimated at some 44,000, make up less than 1 percent of the general population in the Netherlands. The community has only two Jewish schools, both in Amsterdam, with about 700 pupils in all.
The vast majority of Jewish parents — nearly 90 percent — send their children to non-Jewish schools.
Anti-Semitism in these schools has never been a problem and was unthinkable to many, despite a general rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.
Now a growing number of parents are alarmed by the experiences their children are having at school.
By all accounts, Jewish pupils in schools with a large number of students of North African descent run a bigger chance of being bullied, but it also happens in some all-Dutch schools.
Parents are afraid that drawing attention to these incidents — and to their children — will “escalate” matters. At their insistence, the names of the pupils in this story have been changed.
Simon, sporting a baseball cap, recalls sharing a bench outside school with a Moroccan student.
“Can I see your funny hat again,” the boy asked. Simon knew what he meant, and lifted the cap to show his yarmulke.
“I hate Jews,” the other boy announced, in a perfectly normal voice.
“If he wants to hate me, let him,” Simon says. “He is nothing to do with me. As long as it doesn’t come to blows, it doesn’t bother me.”
Nevertheless, Simon is glad he left this public high school on the outskirts of Amsterdam in September, to go to the city’s Jewish school.
“It didn’t frighten me,” he says, “but when I got into an argument, pretty soon I’d be surrounded by five, 10 boys. You learn to spot that critical moment: watch it, no more, there’s a fight coming, and it will only be because of a few words you say.”
Jonathan and Ilan joined the school when Simon left.
“I found a swastika on my locker. When I told my teacher, he said, ‘As long as they don’t harm you,’ ” Jonathan says. “Wherever I go, someone is always shouting ‘filthy kikes.’ Not to me personally, but still I have to hear it. Last year someone wore a yarmulke in school. If I did that now, I wouldn’t be safe.”
Children’s hotlines treat each case of bullying as a personal matter. But in schools with incidents such as these, they are directed at Jewish students as a group.
Some Jewish pupils hide their identity, but in Jonathan and Ilan’s case, a teacher happened to mention that they were out of school because it was Yom Kippur.
“That’s when it started. One boy kept calling us names and hit us whenever we happened to pass him. The principal talked to his parents, but of course that didn’t help,” Ilan says. “Eventually, he was suspended. But even after that he turned round in class once and drew a swastika on our desk, right under the teacher’s nose.”
It is almost impossible for pupils themselves to deal with this kind of group bullying, says child psychologist Bob van der Meer of the Center for Pedagogic Studies in Utrecht.
“The others always outnumber you,” he says.
Van der Meer has been dealing with bullying and discrimination for 15 years.
“Schools should take action on the first symptoms, but prejudice is tough to battle,” he says. “We have a wonderful system for the protection of animals, but zero facilities for combating bullying, discrimination and racism.”
According to Gordon Allport, one of the pioneers of social psychology and an expert on prejudice, bullying is the first step in the cycle of hostile relations that eventually leads to increased racial and ethnic violence.
Yet parents and school staff, possibly frustrated by the inability to protect their children and get to the root of the matter, tend to treat each incident as an individual case. They find explanations with the bully or his victim of the moment, and consider the matter closed when the incident is dealt with.
When the bullying gets to be too much they complain to the principal, Ilan and Jonathan say, and he puts a stop to it.
But the principal denies that the problem exists.
“If I hear of serious racism or swastikas I act immediately, but don’t think I have this problem,” he says.
However, any doubts about the existence of anti-Semitism in Dutch schools soon are dispersed by a wide variety of playground intifada stories.
Max, 9, went to one school with a large North African population for one month. When his mother complained that pupils kept knocking a cap with Hebrew letters from his head, the principal said: “Well, he shouldn’t wear it. You bring this onto yourself.”
And when his mother took Max out of the school, the principal’s response reportedly was, “I always did think you didn’t fit in.”
Tzippy, 11, goes to an all-Dutch village school. After watching an educational TV program focusing on the Middle East, her fellow pupils said: “You Jews are killing the Palestinians — you’ve got tanks, they have nothing.”
Her teacher did put a stop to drawings of swastikas in the classroom and the playground, but Tzippy’s mother is not happy with the many Hitler jokes.
Jack, 14, was told “This isn’t a concentration camp” by a teacher in his all-white school who found Jack too quiet. Being addressed as “Hebe” by other pupils was perfectly normal. Then there were songs featuring “Jew-stars” and Hitler. Jack moved to the Jewish high school.
“I always warn school staff: if you don’t act against this now, don’t be surprised if it happens on a much larger scale in the rest of the country,” Van der Meer says.