Students faced anti-Semitic culture at Melbourne school, court told

Key points

  • Five former Brighton Secondary College students are suing the state of Victoria and the school for negligence and racial discrimination in the Federal Court of Australia. 
  • The Jewish students claim they experienced a culture of anti-Semitism.

A group of Jewish students at a Melbourne school were referred to as subhuman amid an anti-Semitic culture of taunts, violence and swastika graffiti, the Federal Court has heard.

Five former students – brothers Joel and Matt Kaplan, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling – are suing the government-run Brighton Secondary College and the state of Victoria for negligence and failing to protect them under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Racial Discrimination Act.

Five former Brighton Secondary College students say they faced anti-Semitism at the school between 2013 and 2020. Credit:Joe Armao

Barrister Adam Butt, speaking on behalf of the applicants, told the court the students suffered a range of anxiety disorders due to their treatment and four of the five left the school mid-year due to a “dehumanising” environment. Two failed to finish their VCE studies.

“The essential position of all my clients was they didn’t feel they could be openly Jewish at this school unless they were prepared to suffer intolerable treatment at the hands of students, teachers or the principal,” Butt told the court.

“The Racial Discrimination Act is supposed to be about human dignity, but there has not been dignity for my clients in any of these cases.”

He claimed the school failed in its duty of care for the students and that the “state has been vicariously liable for this”.

Among the claims are that between 2013 and 2020, hundreds of swastikas were graffitied at the school, one student was told they could not wear a kippah inside, another was told to remove his Star of David necklace, and they were subject to cyber-bullying with taunts that they were “going to die”. Butt said the school had failed to take action on the reports, failed to remove anti-Semitic graffiti in a reasonable time and gave differential treatment to other minorities.

One of the young men had a knife held to his throat and another claimed he was assaulted by five fellow students.

Former student Liam Arnold-Levy told the court he went from being a “bubbly, inquisitive, happy” child to being “terrified” shortly after starting at the school in year 7.

He said he was subject to constant verbal and physical attacks, was called a “f—ing Jew” and spat on, his notebook was defaced with Stars of David, his kippah was thrown in the bin, money was thrown at him, and he was called a “dirty Jew” or told to “burn in an oven”. He experienced Nazi salutes and “heil Hitlers”.

He said there were “swastikas everywhere” – in the bathroom, in the classroom, on the tables and underneath the tables. He said he would report each incident to the administrators’ office, but said his reports were “never” followed up.

Butt told the court anti-Semitic incidents at the school rose after students studied the graphic novel Maus, which is about the horrors of the Holocaust, and after an assembly speech from the principal Richard Minack.

Butt said that in the speech Minack endorsed a Nazi relative as a good man and called Jews “subhuman or evil”. Butt told the court Minack used the “N word” three times and called Jews “subhuman” four times.

“We do submit there was a normalised culture of anti-Semitism – and the actions of students and staff did go substantially unpunished,” he said.

Chris Young, QC, acting on behalf of the state of Victoria and the education staff, denied the allegations made against them.

Young said each of the five complainants’ allegations would have to be tested individually. He said they would outline steps the principal and staff took to punish wrongdoings and said the school had a number of policies in place to deal with bullying and racism.

The case comes a month after the Victorian government announced it was introducing new laws to criminalise the swastika, in which offenders could face up to 12 months in jail.

The trial continues before Justice Debra Mortimer on Thursday.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article