School culture ‘abrasive’ and principal ‘legitimised’ anti-Semitism, court told

Brighton Secondary College principal Richard Minack legitimised anti-Semitism at the school with a speech in which he referred to Jews as subhuman, a court was told on Friday.

Esther Meltzer worked at private Jewish school Leibler Yavneh College as the deputy principal wellbeing officer when Liam Arnold-Levy arrived there after leaving Brighton Secondary College.

Arnold-Levy is one of five Jewish students suing the state and Brighton Secondary College for negligence and failing to protect them from racial discrimination.

In the Federal Court this week, Arnold-Levy claimed that during his time at Brighton Secondary College he was subject to daily anti-Semitic verbal, physical and emotional abuse and left the school after an alleged knife attack in the school toilets.

Meltzer told the court on Friday that she was appalled by an assembly speech she saw of Minack, in which he referred to Jews as subhuman and elevated the role a relative of his played in the German military.

He would have just legitimised [anti-Semitism] for any student who had negative feelings for Jews, she told the court.

Meltzer told the court she would counsel Arnold-Levy a few times a week and described him as being very insecure, very anxious and a shell of himself.

She said he had gaps in his learning due to his experience at the school and it was hard for him to move past the relentless victimisation.

It was a nightmare for him, she said.

With permission from his family, Meltzer suggested Arnold-Levy arrange a meeting with Minack to get closure. The meeting lasted for 15 minutes in which Arnold-Levy spoke explicitly about the attacks, including the anti-Semitic slurs, but she said it was a waste of time in terms of the outcome.

[Minack] was blank . . . blank stare, he didn’t say anything, didn’t look or acknowledge. He was just sort of there. There was no empathy, no emotion, no response, she told the court.

This was a kid who was so disturbed and so emotionally broken, she said.

Richard just got up and said, ‘OK thank you’ and the meeting was finished.

She said Arnold-Levy was devastated.

A former student Jules Paul – who is not one of the young men suing Brighton Secondary College – told the court that the culture at the school was abrasive with students either joining in on picking on someone or becoming desensitised to the cruelty.

The longer a student stayed the more normalised that would become, and that students just learn to deal with it.

That’s not the most moral thing to do, that’s what it was like at Brighton, he said.

The student saw Liam get bullied daily because of his Jewish background and threatened like many other Jewish students who were at the school with people saying, I’ll stuff you into an oven, f—ing Jew.

During his time, he saw more than 500 swastikas at the school and a teacher repeatedly single out a Jewish student and make fun of his name.

He also said he could not understand why Minack made reference to his relative who was in the German military as a good man in a celebratory send-off assembly speech to year 12 students.

It made me glad to be leaving the school because I would be leaving a school run by someone like Richard Minack.

The state of Victoria and the education staff have denied the allegations made against them.

Earlier on Friday, defence barrister Chris Young, QC, put it to Arnold-Levy that Minack had not heard a complaint of bullying or anti-Semitism from him while he was at the school

He also asked why, in a summary of Arnold-Levy’s experience, written by Meltzer, there was no mention of a range of allegations including being threatened with a knife in the school toilet.

The month-long trial continues on Monday before Justice Debra Mortimer.

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