Conference of German Education Ministers to discuss problem of antisemitism in schools

Jewish pupils in Germany sometimes experience massive hostility from other pupils. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) will discuss this pressing issue in their upcoming meeting.

The Bonn-based KMK, a forum for all 16 state-level decisionmakers in Germany on the field of education and culture will also present conclusions following this week’s meeting.

In a sixth-grade classroom in a school in in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), a pupil stands up and says: “It’s a pity that the Nazis are no longer there. Otherwise you would have been gassed long ago.” What does the teacher say? Nothing, “no reaction”, attests a Jewish pupil who had been the victim of antisemitic

The incident, which comes from a report by the anti-discrimination officer of NRW, has not yet been verified. However, according to Clemens Hötzel of the Düsseldorf anti-discrimination agency Sabra, this is precisely one of the problems of antisemitism in schools, namely that incidents are not consistently reported.

“Such a reporting obligation could be anchored more firmly in legislation concerning schools,” says Hötzel. That incident  is also an example of how antisemitism is often not recognised early enough as a problem by teachers and headmasters, Hötzel says. “When we at Sabra get reports of antisemitic incidents from schools, it is often already too late.” By then, words may even have turned into acts of violence.

Antisemitism is often not even recognised as such in schools, says Hötzel. For example, “You Jew!” can often be heard in schoolyards, but many teachers perceive this only as a common insult.

Hötzel argues that antisemitism is sometimes even hidden by teachers and headmasters “in order not to endanger the good reputation of the school”. “This makes it difficult to establish a culture in which problems are openly addressed.”

In the opinion of Islamic scholar Lamya Kaddor, the fight against antisemitism in schools must not be limited to projects in individual subjects. “I would very much like us to take the fight against antisemitism into account already in teacher training and later also in learning plans for pupils,” she emphasised to regional broadcaster WDR.

Politicians have long recognised the problem of antisemitism in schools. The Standing Conference together with Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s EJC affiliate agreed on appropriate measures five years ago. One of the declared aims: “to make Judaism in its diversity visible in everyday school life”.

But that alone is difficult if textbooks do not provide any support. According to studies, many textbooks show Judaism after 1945 – if at all – mainly in connection with the Middle East conflict. The multifaceted problem of antisemitism in schools is not easily solved.

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