Court rules in favour of former Brighton students

Judge orders $436,000 to be paid to Matt Kaplan, his brother Joel, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling.

Brighton Secondary College. 
Photo: Peter Haskin
Brighton Secondary College. Photo: Peter Haskin

Five Jewish ex-students have partly won their civil case against Brighton Secondary College and the Victorian state government over antisemitism.

In court this afternoon, Judge Debra Mortimer ordered a total of just under $436,000 be paid to Matt Kaplan, his brother Joel, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling.

She also ordered the state should apologise to them.

Once the judge left, there was a round of applause by people inside the courtroom about the outcome of the case, and several burst out in a chorus of “Hatikvah”, Israel’s national anthem.

Outside the court, Anti Defamation Commission Chairman Dvir Abramovich called the outcome “a thundering victory for justice”.

The boys’ legal team entering the Court on September 14.

“I call on the state government to listen to Justice Mortimer’s words and to immediately establish a task force that can effectively tackle the tsunami of antisemitism at schools and recommend substantive reforms to combat this escalating crisis” he said.

Daniel Aghion, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, welcomed the judgement, which he said acknowledges that antisemitic bullying occurred at the school and there was a systemic failure to deal with it by school leadership.

“The Jewish community has wrapped their arms around these students. We hope they can now put this traumatic ordeal behind them.”

Aghion added, “The JCCV stands ready to help the Victorian Government and school leaders ensure that all Victorian schools offer a safe environment for Jewish students.”

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry President, Jillian Segal, said the decision “will stand as a warning to any students who engage in antisemitic bullying, and to parents, teachers and Education Departments across Australia who fail to act responsibly to curb and prevent such behaviour that they will be held to account for their actions”.

“With meagre resources, they took on the might of the Victorian government and Education Department to stand up for truth and justice, and they were successful,” she said.

“We know the personal price all of them have paid in sweat and nerves, and the enormous financial sacrifice they have made.”

Ms Segal said there needs to be a national antisemitism education program across Australian schools to provide resources and support to teachers and parents to understand and defeat this form of hatred.

“Bland, generic statements against racism are not enough” she said.

MP for Caulfield, David Southwick, says the verdict is “a damning indictment of antisemitism in the Victorian education system, and a vindication of the young men who spoke out against it”.

“The Victorian education system has completely failed to protect students from antisemitic hate and abuse,” Southwick said.

“I commend Liam, Joel, Matt, Guy, Zack and their families for having the bravery to stand up and fight against a government and education bureaucracy that simply would not listen.”

“At the very beginning of this saga, then Education Minister, James Merlino said that antisemitism “will not be tolerated” and that the Victorian Government “simply must get to the bottom of what has occurred”.

The Caulfield MP claimed that, in the end, all they did was fight families in court.
“The Andrews Government needs to accept responsibility for the rise of antisemitism in public schools and start doing something to fix it,” he said.

Today’s court ruling marked the culmination of a legal saga that began last April.

Matt Kaplan, his brother Joel, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling surf the school, and Victoria’s Department of Education and Training, over antisemitic bullying they claim to have suffered while students at the school between 2013 and 2020.

The five said they left the school because of the bullying.

The five plaintiffs alleged negligence, and claimed the school and department failed to protect them as Jewish students under federal racial discrimination laws and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The court has heard there had been a lack of discipline of students over a rash of swastika daubings, and that one of the Jewish students had allegedly been subjected to a knife attack in a school bathroom.

The court heard more than 100 swastikas were scrawled on lockers, bathrooms, fences and books, yet no student got into trouble over the swastikas.

Counsel for the complainants Adam Butt told the court in June 2022 that the school had failed in its duty of care, and the state of Victoria was “vicariously liable”.

Jewish communal leaders have visited the Federal Court to give moral support to the ex-students at various points during the proceedings.

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