Enough is enough

JFK School latest site of anti-Semitic bullying in Berlin

anti-semitic bullying in berlin
The yarmulke that led to an anti-Semitic attack in Prenzlauer Berg. Source: DPA

Just days after a Berlin court sentenced a man for an anti-Semitic attack, Berlin’s prestigious John F. Kennedy School acknowledged that a student had been the victim of months of anti-Semitic bullying.

School officials are still unclear of the scope of the bullying, but a newspaper report said students had put swastika stickers on the Jewish ninth-grader’s backpack, made remarks about trains to Auschwitz and blew smoke in his face, saying it should remind him of the fate of his forefathers.

“There wasn’t enough effort in the beginning to rectify the situation,” Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin, told Tagesspiegel, a sister publication of Handelsblatt Global. Ms. Berger had been in touch with the school administration for weeks and said the complaints were originally dismissed as juvenile pranks. She first contacted the school by letter on June 12 but has yet to receive a reply.

The bullying is the latest high-profile case of anti-Semitism in Germany, and Berlin specifically. Last year, the interior ministry recorded 1,453 anti-Semitic attacks in Germany, down just slightly from 1,468 in 2016. A special governmental council on anti-Semitism recently said the frequency of such attacks have decreased since the 1950s but are on the increase again since the turn of the century, due to the rise of right-wing politics and Middle Eastern conflicts.

On June 25, a Syrian refugee was sentenced to a month of jail as well as a tour of the Holocaust memorial in Wannsee. He had attacked a man wearing a yarmulke in the posh Prenzlauer Berg district of northern Berlin in April. The victim, a non-Jewish Israeli, had donned the cap in a social experiment and recorded video of the attacker hitting him with a belt.

Same pattern, different school

Unfortunately, the bullying at the JFK School is just the latest in several anti-Semitic incidents at German schools in recent months. In March, a second-grader complained of anti-Semitic hazing and, late last year, a 14-year-old student left a high school in the southern district of Friedenau after similar anti-Semitic bullying, sparking an outcry that Berlin officials weren’t doing enough to combat anti-Semitism.

“We keep running into this pattern, and it’s even worse in this case because JFK is one of the schools that the Jewish Community has cooperated with for years,” said Sigmount Königsberg, the anti-Semitism official for the Jewish Community of Berlin. “Following the events and public reckoning at the Friedenau school, a new train of thought would have been expected from Berlin’s schools. Apparently, that’s not the case.”

JFK is a bilingual American-style school with 1,700 students in the leafy suburb of Zehlendorf, once a center point of US forces in Berlin. School officials said the anti-Semitic bullying was “intolerable” and “unacceptable” and that they had launched a deep investigation.

Call for help

The student kept a diary of the events and noted which teachers chuckled or consoled him over the bullying, though he didn’t initially tell his parents, according to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The student said he was subjected to daily bullying and asked for help after an attack four weeks ago was too much for him. The family first turned to anti-discrimination officials within the Berlin government and later notified the school, which Thursday said it had only known about the incidents since June 7.

“The family didn’t feel as though they were being heard during the investigation,” said JFK Managing Director Brian Salzer, who leaned on traditional bureaucrat-speak about delays being caused by following procedure.

Still, the school has filed charges with the police and has spoken with students and their parents about the bullying. It’s also in contact with psychologists and governmental antidiscrimination officials.

The victim hasn’t been at school since early June. “This case doesn’t define our school,” Mr. Salzer said.

Andrew Bulkeley is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. Journalists from Handelsblatt’s sister publication Tagesspiegel provided reporting and interviews for this article. To contact the author: a.bulkeley@handelstblattglobal.com

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