Australia
Australia iStock

Five Jewish former students of an Australian high school have launched a lawsuit alleging discriminatory treatment, the Australian Jewish News reported.

The ex-students are claiming that Brighton Secondary School fostered a culture of antisemitism that created a hostile educational environment.

The lawsuit against the government of the state of Victoria, where the school is located, contains allegations of antisemitism that were previously reported in the Australian press in 2020. The reports led to the Victorian Department of Education opening an investigation and a 124-page report that gave 18 recommendations for reforming education policies, including guidelines for dealing with antisemitism and racist incidents at schools in Victoria.

In response, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is also launching a program to teach staff at Brighton Secondary School how to deal with antisemitism.

Federal Court documents revealed that the former students alleged the school fostered an antisemitic culture that made it impossible for them to learn in a safe environment. Fifteen other students were named in the lawsuit.

Four of the plaintiffs told the court that they transferred out of Brighton Secondary College early due to continual antisemitic abuse that occurred between 2013 and 2020, adding that the school did not address incidents on multiple occasions.

Complaints mentioned in the court document include a kippah being pulled off a boy’s head on multiple occasions; frequent abusive language directed at Jewish students, such as “Jewboy”, “skullboy”, “Heil Hitler,” and “burn in the oven”; a school environment one ex-student compared to a “prison culture” where reporting antisemitic acts led to an increase in discriminatory behavior from other students; an environment so hostile to the students that after reporting a knife assault to teachers, a student was forced to leave the school after it wasn’t investigated; an allegation that Jewish students were singled out by teachers and students, with a student being teased because he was “growing facial hair in accordance with Jewish tradition and law” and another singled out in class and spoken to in Hebrew, with anti-Israel comments made; and an example given of when “Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust, was taught in class, antisemitic jokes took place afterwards, including calling Jewish students “rats.”

Brighton Secondary College filed a response document in court that confirmed “some acts of intolerance by students” had occurred, but denying legal liability.

“Those acts included some acts of antisemitism, but also included acts concerning physical appearance, sexual orientation and other attributes,” the document stated.

It added: “To the best of the respondents’ knowledge, the antisemitic acts were small in number and done by a small number of students.”

The school also denied an allegation that swastika graffiti was not removed and the perpetrators not sought out.

“The allegation of ‘antisemitic attitudes and apathy that flowed from the top down [and] which were normalized’ is wholly rejected,” Brighton Secondary School said in the court document. “The respondents rejected all forms of intolerance, including antisemitism.”