The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism

Düsseldorf has a first action plan against antisemitism in the North Rhine-Westphalia state

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The “Antisemitism in Düsseldorf Schools” group presented on Wednesday an important result of its work: “Guideline with recommendations for teachers” – how they can prevent hostility towards Jews and how they can react to antisemitic incidents at school. “We do not want to make accusations and allegations, but to encourage and call for courage,” said Bastien Pelermann, director of the memorial and commemoration site, which is part of the work group. The same “guideline with recommendations” encourages assuming a position, and encourages not to turn anything into trivial, to maintain correct language, and to set boundaries unequivocally.

Everything is part of a plan against antisemitism, the first of its kind in the North Rhine-Westphalia. “The fact that a first action plan – does not mean that we have the biggest problems, but that we are particularly alert,” said Mayor Thomas Geisel. The booklet is sent to all schools. In addition, it is accessible and open for review at the city hall, the school administration office and the memorial and commemoration site, and can be reviewed online.

The starting point of this development was the city council. At the end of 2017, the latter passed a resolution against antisemitism and ordered the administration to develop the concept of the of the action. To this end, the city placed a “round table” in which the school administration, the memorial and commemoration site, the Jewish community, the school psychology center, the city’s diversity department, the mayor’s office, as well as the Office for Action against Discrimination and Counseling on Racism and Antisemitism Matters (Sabra). The Center for School Psychology is also developing a conceptual approach to stand up to antisemitism in Düsseldorf schools as a safe haven for children and youth of the Jewish faith.”

Different incidents have shown how important are the concepts mentioned above. Last year, a young man wearing a kippah was harassed and in the Old City of Jerusalem, while a few weeks ago individuals followed Rabbi Haim Barkan and cursed him. Michael Sentai-Heise, the administrative director of the Jewish community, reports on a meeting with about 50 students who described their experiences of antisemitism: “It shocked us”. An important insight and recognition from the conversations was that many teachers are helpless and do not have a clue how to react. The working group is willing to provide them the answer now, and to instill in them the courage.

The city took another three steps to act against antisemitism:

  1. In December, the city council increased the budget allocation for the memorial and commemoration site to 60,000 euros. Therefore, since the beginning of the year, two part time jobs have been funded, and the institution’s educational work is reinforced by this. Around 30,000 people visit the memorial site each year, and many of them are students.
  2. The city council subsidizes Sabra in the amount of 40,000 euros per year. The service bureau advises applicants for help, and develops prevention programs. Sabra will offer teachers a seminar on antisemitism to be held on November 26th, after which additional activities will be offered.
  3. The city appointed a qualified professional official in the mayor’s office as the main authority for the subject of antisemitism, and instructed him to contact all the entities and persons in the field online. This role was taken by Yorg Ruten, who is in charge of the field of youth, school, social affairs and health.

Santai-Heise has prepared a positive interim balance of work done so far: “I am pleased that we have developed this catalog thanks to our work, and our members feel very good in our hometown of Düsseldorf. The ongoing action by the administration and civil society against antisemitism, which unfortunately is growing, will enable this state of affairs to remain unchanged in the future.”