New York City just elected as Mayor one of the most progressive politicians in the nation. Bill de Blasio is the kind of guy who supported Occupy Wall Street from its start, even addressing the encampment in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park while still the city’s Public Advocate. So to say I was a little shocked to read a front page story in the New York Times today about the large number of anti-Semitic, white supremacist, neo-Nazi students at a public school a mere 90 minutes from NYC … Well let’s just say, excuse my ignorance about some parts of New York State:
The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face.
A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said.
For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust.
Kids have been “pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten.” And so on.
Three Jewish families have “sued the district and its administrators in federal court; they seek damages and an end to what they call pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.” See more about the case here. And, “a review of sworn depositions of current and former school officials shows that some have acknowledged there had been a problem, although they denied it was widespread and said they had responded appropriately with discipline and other measures.” (The paper was able to review “about 3,500 pages of deposition testimony by parents, children and school administrators, which were provided by the families’ lawyers on the condition that the identities of the children, some of whom are still enrolled, be protected.”)
Apparently, the school bus “was a particularly difficult place for Jewish students.”
On April 19, 2010, T.E., then in sixth grade, told her mother that students on her bus had made Nazi salutes and discussed how to celebrate the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday, which was the next day.
Sherri E., who knew the date was also the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, said she reported the episode to school officials, telling them her daughter would stay home the next morning.
No violence followed, but the harassment continued, T.E. said in an interview. “I finally said, ‘I’m not going back to school,’ ” she said. She withdrew in early 2012.
Ironically, the school superintendent, now retired, is Jewish. He came from New York City’s school system, and according to the Times, “said in his deposition that when he was being considered for the post, members of the Pine Bush school board cautioned him about the community’s history of anti-Semitism and Klan activity, and that it ‘was not a Jewish area.’” In defending the school system, he “said in his deposition that his challenge as superintendent was that ‘so many’ students were being accused of anti-Semitic behavior. ‘The issue is not three students doing it all the time; the question is if you have 30 students doing it,’ he said. ‘How do you undo the years of inbred prejudice?’”
Well don’t ask Europeans. Also in the Times today, there is reporting on a new human rights survey of Jewish residents in France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, Britain and Latvia, which “account for more than 90 percent of Europe’s Jewish population.” The survey found that “while member states have made sustained efforts to combat anti-Semitism, the problem is still widespread.” So widespread, in fact that “nearly a third of European Jews” are thinking about emigrating “because they do not feel safe in their home country.”
It's terrible for anyone not to feel safe in their country. Or safe in school - 90 minutes from New York City.