Tale of hate that shocked world

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY TOBY AXELROD Toby Axelrod is the JC’s Ber­lin cor­re­spon­dent

OUR STORY about the fam­ily in Ber­lin whose teenage son was sub­jected to an­ti­semitism by Mus­lim class­mates took the in­ter­na­tional me­dia by storm.

With this story, a door opened for peo­ple to talk about a fes­ter­ing topic. And talk they did. Since the story was pub­lished in the JC, it has been cov­ered by at least 18 Ger­man news or­gan­i­sa­tions, and this week ap­peared in the Sun and the Times.

One rea­son the story drew at­ten­tion: it con­fronted an is­sue with com­plex po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions: an­ti­semitism among Ger­man-born Mus­lim youth.

It is now com­mon in Ger­many to recog­nise and con­demn the an­ti­semitism of the ex­treme right — which is re­spon­si­ble for most vi­o­lent crimes against mi­nori­ties in the coun­try — as well as that of the ex­treme left and within main­stream so­ci­ety.

But dis­cussing Mus­lim an­ti­semitism is more ta­boo. Some peo­ple fear be­ing ac­cused of stereo­typ­ing. Some avoid the is­sue be­cause they sus­pect that what oth­ers call an­ti­semitism is sim­ply crit­i­cism of Is­rael.

On the other side, there are peo­ple

wait­ing to use sto­ries of Mus­lim an­ti­semitism to feed neg­a­tive stereo­types and push pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal agen­das. This is a fright­en­ing trend, espe­cially in Europe’s cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

But to deny that there is a prob­lem of an­ti­semitism in the schools is equally dan­ger­ous.

Af­ter all, in Ger­many we’ve been hear­ing about the prob­lem for years from teach­ers, par­ents, pupils: the pop­u­lar­ity of “Jude” as an in­sult in play­grounds; chil­dren whose par­ents, im­mi­grants from Arab coun­tries, will not al­low them on a class trip to a con­cen­tra­tion camp memo­rial; kids who re­peat con­spir­acy the­o­ries about Jews and Is­rael and 9-11 — and so on.

The prob­lem has been recog­nised as real by nu­mer­ous NGOs, mu­se­ums, Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions and Holo­caust memo­ri­als — too many to name here — that have been work­ing in schools in Ber­lin and else­where on is­sues re­lated to an­ti­semitism and xeno­pho­bia; some groups specif­i­cally part­ner Jews and Mus­lims in such ef­forts. Most of these projects work on shoe­string bud­gets. Vir­tu­ally all of them de­serve more sup­port, be­cause they must mul­ti­ply their ef­forts. This de­spite the fact that their suc- cess is hard to gauge quan­ti­ta­tively – be­cause the prob­lem does not ever go away. Jour­nal­ists or other ob­servers are rarely al­lowed to sit in on school pro­grammes, sup­pos­edly be­cause class­room dy­nam­ics can so eas­ily be up­set by a stranger’s pres­ence. But, anec­do­tally, the ef­forts pay off: pupils do learn to recog­nise how easy it is to be ma­nip­u­lated to hate. They cross a thresh­old to self-aware­ness. And be­come part­ners in the ef­fort to raise aware­ness among peers.

Since so much hap­pens be­hind the scenes, it is easy to ig­nore or forget about Ger­many’s school play­ground an­ti­semitism. Most such sto­ries are not told: Par­ents want to spare their fam­i­lies me­dia at­ten­tion, schools want to avoid bad pub­lic­ity.

By go­ing pub­lic, this Ber­lin fam­ily made a big­ger com­mit­ment: to openly con­front a very real prob­lem with­out fall­ing prey to small-minded po­lit­i­cal agen­das or be­ing used in peo­ple’s games. Any­one who hoped to find in them a poster-fam­ily for anti-Mus­lim rhetoric will be dis­ap­pointed.

What they care about is, above all, their son’s well-be­ing. A po­lit­i­cally lib­eral Jewish fam­ily, they had wanted their boy to be in a school with chil­dren of many back­grounds. And they still be­lieve change is pos­si­ble – just not with their son as the guinea pig.

Peo­ple fear be­ing ac­cused of us­ing stereo­types

Friede­nauer Ge­mein­schaftss­chule, Ber­lin school where the boy was bul­lied

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