Media Microscope: Child’s Play

Recent incidents show that anti-racism education programs in schools need reinvigoration

 

Despite graphic footage existing for one of the two shocking antisemitic attacks on Jewish children in Melbourne public schools, first reported by the Australian Jewish News (Oct. 3), it appears the issue attracted newspaper interest but was largely ignored by TV stations.

ABC Radio 774 Melbourne host Jon Faine opened his program on Oct. 4 with the issue, but there did not appear to be any coverage on ABC’s flagship current affairs TV/Radio programs, nor its website.

Channel 7’s website ran a news article (Oct. 4), while SBS’s website ran a report of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg calling for the teaching of Holocaust education in schools (Oct. 4).

SkyNews’ “The Bolt Report” (Oct. 10) host Andrew Bolt, Senator Cory Bernardi and columnist Caroline Marcus examined the issue, focusing on an Australian National Imams Council statement which condemned the incidents, but felt identifying a key perpetrator as Muslim in media reports was “gratuitous” and risked “engendering division, tension and conflict between communities.”

But apart from SkyNews, the bulk of the coverage was left to the print media.

The Age ran news and analysis (Oct. 4-6), including Anti-Defamation Commission Chairman Dvir Abramovich’s op-ed (Oct. 5) arguing that “we need to accept a hard truth: Anti-Semitism in Victorian schools is a monumental and hidden crisis that is keeping Jewish parents, who are terrified about the physical and mental safety of their children, up at night.  The phones at the Anti-Defamation Commission ring off the hook daily with chilling reports of harassment of Jewish students, and the situation has become so bad that there is no telling where this descent will end.”

Dr. Abramovich urged, “making anti-bias and Holocaust education compulsory in every class.”

In the same edition, the Age editorialised, “this is not, by any stretch, regular schoolyard bullying, as one school principal apparently depicted it. These incidents portray a deliberately pointed form of religious bigotry, one that is intended to cause fear and ostracise a group of people for the sole reason that they follow the Jewish faith… such acts of intimidation and fear-mongering have been learnt from somewhere…There have been many more instances of anti-Semitic propaganda in recent months… Swastikas were daubed on a Jewish aged-care home in Caulfield and on playground equipment in suburban McKinnon. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s electoral campaign posters were also plastered with swastikas. Such grotesque abuse deserves absolute condemnation and the denunciation must get louder each time.”

The following day the Sunday Age ran an op-ed from AIJAC’s Naomi Levin detailing the plethora of public and private programs designed to counter bullying and racism in Victorian schools but noting, “despite our best intentions, children are still being racially humiliated at school. Despite the hard work being done by reputable authorities to produce anti-racism teaching resources, these messages are not always filtering down into our schools… Government and non-government schools need to be actively implementing and promoting these programs as a core activity… the recent incidents are a call to action. They remind us that schools must actively teach the dangers of racist bullying…Additionally, when confronted with racist bullying, schools must address it as racist bullying.”

On Oct. 7, the Age’s letters page included an expression of solidarity from Council of Christians and Jews of Victoria Chairman Thilo Troschke.

In the West Australian (Oct. 16), commentator Gemma Tognini wrote, “this isn’t run-of-the-mill schoolyard bullying. Your average school bullying incident doesn’t typically involve one kid calling another a dirty Jew or a Jewish cockroach. It is the language of racial vilification. It’s the hate speech we all agree has no place in Australia.” She went on to say it reflects a worrying increase in global antisemitism.

The Herald Sun tracked the story in the news pages, running a brief report on Oct. 4, quoting Abramovich. An Oct. 10 report noted that one of the victims was “sent messages saying he will be ‘slaughtered’ and asked if he ‘wanted to talk about suicide.’” Another on Oct.12 quoted Sheikh Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, who said, “This shameful behaviour is contrary to the doctrine of Islam and they are barbaric acts.”

The Guardian Australia report (Oct. 3) quoted from AIJAC’s Dr. Colin Rubenstein’s statement that schools had a responsibility to provide a safe and nurturing environment for students that was free from racism and bullying.