In an ongoing survey of Jewish parents being undertaken by the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand since 22 November 2023, there is concerning evidence of high levels of antisemitism in New Zealand’s schools.
50% of the parents who have completed the survey said their children had been subjected to antisemitism in schools since 7 October 2023. The age range of children affected was 9 -18 years of age. Only 40% of parents reported incidents to schools, one commenting that the school in question had handled incidents badly previously. Other respondents reported that they find it preferable to go directly to the parents of the bullying child and another saying their school was ill-equipped to deal with antisemitism.
40% of the incidents reported concerned dehumanizing or demonizing allegations about Jews including allegations of an international Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
Some of the antisemitic episodes described by parents included a physical assault on a Jewish student, students giving Nazi salutes to Jewish students, and various name-calling including “dirty Jew”. Also reported were allegations that Jews control the world. Another incident involved a student taking a Jewish student’s school shirt and drawing a swastika and a Star of David side by side on it. Yet another student play-acted gassing a Jewish student. And in a further incident a Jewish child, when talking about not celebrating Christmas, was told by a fellow student that Jews chop off babies’ heads.
Not all incidents involved students. On one occasion a teacher was stood down and has since resigned over their display of antisemitism.
In a comment that has resonance for many Jewish parents, one parent commented that their child did not feel safe to claim their Jewish identity at school.
“The survey results are entirely in keeping with what we are hearing. The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand has been dealing with a recent influx of complaints about antisemitism in schools,” said Deborah Hart, chair of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. “Usually we might deal with two formal complaints a year. In the two months since the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, we have dealt with five times that many formal complaints and there are many, many more that may, in time, turn into formal complaints.”
Lisa Ben Haim, a parent of one of the affected Jewish students, said her son had been followed home by a group of children, yelling “Free Palestine – six million Jews were killed by Hitler. Why don’t you die?” He was later barricaded into a room with students on the outside yelling, “Free Palestine” and when the door was opened, one student attempted to assault him with a broom. Lisa says, “I have been distraught about the ongoing episodes and I’m now pretty angry that the school seems unable to provide a safe environment for my 13-year-old son.”
Ms Hart commented, “No matter what is going on internationally or politically, schools should be a place of learning and safety for all children. Teachers and schools need to ensure that Jewish children are protected and that schools are places of tolerance and understanding.”
“As schools prepare for the summer close-down, there is an opportunity for them to consider what they need to do to protect Jewish children and ensure their school is a safe and nurturing place for all when students return to the classroom. The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand has programmes and tools to assist them in that task.”