(JTA) – Belgian school students are suspected of anti-Semitic bullying against a Jewish classmate, whom they reportedly sprayed with deodorants in the showers in a reference to Nazi gas chambers.
The alleged abuse took place over the past two years at an elementary school in the Brussels suburb of Braine-le-Chateau, according to a statement Friday by the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA.
The mother of the alleged victim, now 12, filed a police complaint last week over the bullying. Francis Brancart, an education board official, confirmed Thursday that his office is looking into the case, which he said may require the opening of an independent inquiry, the news agency Belga reported. He said he could not confirm the veracity of the complaints.
Three pupils, including the son of a teacher, are accused of carrying out what the victim described as ongoing abuse. The incident in the showers happened early last year. The three pressed the deodorant canister’s nozzles to the boy’s body, he said, causing burns and skin irritations on his back. It was one of dozens of incidents involving violence, anti-Semitic jokes and intimidation, the pupil’s mother said.
The pupil complained to faculty but his mother said the teacher in charge ignored the complaints, even after the boy asked for and got permission to stay indoors during recess to avoid harassment.
“She downplayed the situation each time we complained,” the mother, who was not named in LBCA and Belga’s reporting, told LBCA of the teacher. “My son is graduating from elementary school and will leave the school, but I am taking these actions so that teachers and the school administration realize they cannot disregard this bullying.”
The principal told Belga she was surprised by the allegations, adding the pupil in question did not appear to be unhappy, his behaviour had not changed over the past two years and that he has maintained excellent scholastic performance. The teacher handling the mother’s complaint did not relay to the principal the anti-Semitic character of the harassment, the principal said.
She also said the three pupils involved in the deodorant incident were reprimanded for their behaviour, which they said was part of a game. But LBCA president Joel Rubinfeld told Belga he interviewed other pupils who confirmed the anti-Semitic nature of that incident and the recurrence of jokes and taunts referencing the Holocaust in the pupil’s bullying by the three other classmates.
The case reported last week is one of several recent incidents, including the anti-Semitic bullying of a high school student who was forced to change schools amid alleged inaction by the institution where the harassment occurred. Last year, Belgian media reported on the online shaming by classmates of a pro-Israel high school student who also left the public education system for a Jewish school.
These cases, Rubinfeld said last year, are turning Belgian schools into “Jew-free” zones.