When future generations of Australian Jews look back, September 14, 2023 will be seen as a watershed day in the fight against antisemitism.
The outcome in the case of five former students who sued Brighton Secondary College and the Victorian Department of Education was so much more than a mere court victory.
While Australia is largely a harmonious society, Brighton Secondary College is just one school of many where Jewish students have been subjected to horrific bullying on account of their religious identity. Many of the student perpetrators would be hopelessly unaware of the meaning or implications of their words and actions, and it falls on teachers and school leadership teams to draw the line.
Last Thursday the Federal Court of Australia emphatically drew that line – a line that now has much more serious ramifications if crossed.
It shouldn’t have had to come to this, but hopefully now all schools and education departments across Australia will do the right thing from the outset and set a zero tolerance policy for antisemitism.
But more is needed. Education programs are key to combating antisemitism and other forms of hate so that all school students can feel safe. To that end we are pleased to see the Victorian government acting in this regard and also echo Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Jillian Segal’s call for a national antisemitism education program across all Australian schools.
It is fitting that the judgment was handed down right before Rosh Hashanah, which begins the Days of Awe when we are all judged for our deeds and misdeeds. As we begin the new Jewish year with a clean slate, we cautiously hope for a clean slate, free of antisemitic bullying, across our schools.
It is also fitting that attendees in the court sang Hatikvah following the judgment. Long before it was Israel’s anthem, Hatikvah encapsulated the hopes of the early Zionists, those pioneers who dreamt of the Jews controlling their own destiny.
The five plaintiffs in the Brighton case too, took destiny into their own hands at great personal cost due to their unwavering belief that it was the right thing to do.
They are our pioneers. We are proud to have chronicled their journey and we salute them.