Muslim antisemitism in Berlin schools
There are many indications that antisemitism in Germany has increased in recent years on social media, in the public domain, within the political system, and in society at large. Jews often try to avoid locations where antisemitism is at its worst or may affect them. But that is not possible for schoolchildren. A number of extreme antisemitic incidents in German schools have been published in recent years, and by elaborating on several that have taken place in Berlin, we can get an indication of how serious the problem has become.
In April 2017, a Jewish school boy was tormented by fellow pupils of Arab and Turkish descent at a public school in Berlin’s Friedenau district. To protect his identity, his first name was changed, and he became known in the media as Oscar Michalski. He was not only insulted, but an older student shot at him with a realistic-looking gun. He also strangled Oscar to the point of unconsciousness. The school’s population is about 80 percent Muslim; most are of Turkish and some of Arab provenance.
The school’s headmaster, who taught mathematics in the victim’s class, said that he was unaware of the problems. And the school’s administration and social worker ignored them even after they were alerted by the victim’s parents. His parents then moved Oscar to another school. The French-German public broadcaster Arte broadcast a documentary on the story of Oscar.
Another case of antisemitism in a Berlin school came to light in December 2017. There, an 18-year old Jewish high school pupil at the Ernst-Reuter-School in the Gesundbrunnen neighborhood was told by a female student during a discussion on the Middle East that “Hitler was good, he has murdered Jews.” Fellow students added, “you are all child murderers” and “you should all be decapitated.” From that point on during recess, the boy decided to remain indoors for his security.
In March 2018, a second-grade Jewish girl at the Paul Simmel Elementary School in Berlin’s Tempelhof-Schöneberg neighborhood was mobbed because of her Jewish identity. Her father said that his daughter had been insulted and threatened with death by Muslim pupils because “she doesn’t believe in Allah.”
Also in 2018, German-Jewish student Liam Rückert relocated from Berlin to Israel, in part because he had experienced rampant hatred of Jews at his Jungfernheide public school in Berlin’s Spandau neighborhood. The school is known to be problematic. Sixty-two percent of its pupils come from migrant backgrounds. Rückert said that he realized he had to conceal his Jewish identity when, during a discussion about the Middle East conflict, a student of Arab origin said that if there were a Jew in the class, he would kill him. Rückert also said that he had a gay Arab friend called Hussein. They shared their secret identities. Once Rückert’s Jewish identity became known, he was constantly insulted with words like “shit Jew” and “shit Israeli.” The school refused his request to change classes. His mother, who is of Israeli descent, said: “We received no support from the school administration.”
In June 2018, it became known that at the highly reputed John F. Kennedy School in the Berlin Zehlendorf neighborhood, a Jewish student had been harassed by various pupils for several months. This school’s pupils are primarily from German elite families, as well as those of foreign diplomats. One classmate blew cigarette smoke in the student’s face and told him he should “think about his gassed ancestors.” On other occasions, he received notes from classmates emblazoned with a swastika. A large part of the class tolerated the harassment or participated in it. There had also been antisemitic incidents aimed at a female Jewish student. The school’s administration said that they hadn’t understood the problems for several months, but took action as soon as the issue became known. At the beginning of the new school year, the administration plans to introduce a special program on discrimination.
German authorities are slowly waking up to the problem of antisemitism in schools, and are beginning to address it, but only partly. The government recognizes that in many cases, the alleged perpetrators are the children of Muslim immigrants, particularly in Berlin, which has the largest Muslim and Jewish communities.
Despite some recent laudable efforts to combat the problem, it will take a long time before most German schools will effectively deal properly with antisemitic and racist incidents, and educate pupils against discrimination. If incidents nevertheless occur, the perpetrators should be severely punished. All such incidents should be reported to the authorities and school administrations, and those that do not comply should be reprimanded or replaced. This sounds like a near-utopian vision of how the German reality will develop.
Manfred Gerstenfeld is an Austrian-born Israeli author and former Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Eva Odrischinsky is an editor at the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism