Berlin international school acknowledges it underestimated bullying of Jewish student


(JTA) — A prestigious international school in Berlin has acknowledged that it underestimated the anti-Semitic bullying of a Jewish student.

The administration at the John F. Kennedy School has confirmed that it was informed of the harassment of a ninth-grader in early June, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported.

Reportedly the boy was bullied on the way to and from school. In one incident a classmate pressed an unlit cigarette in his face and told the teenager he should think about his ancestors who were gassed to death in the Holocaust. In another, classmates harassed the boy with papers marked with swastikas. Some children accused the boy of being a “bad Jew” because he criticized both Israel and the Palestinians in the Mideast conflict, and he reportedly was teased over his appearance.

The Berliner Zeitung reported that a Jewish girl at the school also was subjected to anti-Semitic bullying.

The school administration has announced that it was addressing the case with the city of Berlin and instituting measures to prevent recurrence, including discussions with educators, classes and individual students. Meetings have been held with the parents of those accused of bullying the teen.

Also, the school has begun consultations with the Berlin watchdog organization, Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism. Starting the next term, JFK will feature an intensive focus on values and discrimination, the Berliner Zeitung reported.

The school, where English and German are the official languages, has some 1,600 students, many from families in the diplomatic service, particularly the U.S. Embassy. Though other recent incidents of anti-Semitism in schools have been attributed to Muslim pupils, it was not the case here.

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, condemned the incident and said Wednesday that it showed how urgently a reporting system for anti-Semitic incidents is needed in schools.

Noting that anti-Semitism is found in all parts of society, regardless of religious or ethnic background, Schuster said in a statement that “schools must take [such] incidents seriously and not sweep them under the rug.”

He added that teacher training and a better overview of the situation would help in the fight against anti-Semitism. To that end, he said he supports a nationwide reporting system for the broadest range of incidents, from minor to serious. There already are a few services for reporting incidents.

In related news, the Central Council of Jews in Germany earlier this week called for more staff to assist the federal government’s new anti-Semitism commissioner.

Jews in Germany “experience various forms of anti-Semitism on many levels” and on a daily basis, Schuster said in a statement Tuesday.

“This should not just worry us Jews, but rather our entire society,” he said.

“The new commissioner can make a major contribution” to the fight against anti-Jewish discrimination, Schuster said, but only if he has enough support from the government.

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