Melbourne school principal testifies in ex-students' antisemitism lawsuit

Antisemitic activity reportedly increased at the school after the principal gave a speech that called Jews “subhuman.”

Melbourne, Australia (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Melbourne, Australia
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Richard Minack, the principal of Brighton Secondary College in Melbourne, took to the stand in a lawsuit brought by five Jewish former students: Joel and Matt Kaplan, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling. The plaintiffs claimed that they experienced antisemitic bullying, discrimination and negligence during their time at the school from 2013-2020, The Canberra Times reported.

According to testimony previously heard in the trial, hundreds of hand-drawn swastikas adorned the walls and furniture of the school. Minack denied ever seeing swastikas, however. “I never observed a swastika on a table," he testified per The Canberra Times. "I never saw any of them on yard duties. In my experience, the level of graffiti at Brighton is a very low level."

In the supposedly rare instances when students would complain to Minack about swastika graffiti at the school, the principal told the court that he would demand that it be removed. Nevertheless, Minack never made sure that the swastikas were gone. “I never inspected the pavement to see if it was removed, no one reported that afterward so I assumed it had been," he said, according to The Canberra Times.

Notably, Melbourne is the capital of the Australian state of Victoria, which recently became the first state in Australia to ban public displays of swastikas.

A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Students alleged that antisemitism was prevalent at the school

Students expressed that antisemitic graffiti at Brighton Secondary College increased following a speech in which Minak mentioned his German grandfather’s involvement in the Wehrmacht during World War II, Perth Now reported. The principal also allegedly referred to Jews as “subhuman” in the same speech, per The Age.

Arnold-Levy, one of the plaintiffs, claimed that he had been aggressively bullied at the school, even being held at knifepoint by other students, Perth Now revealed. Arnold-Levy requested to meet with Minack after transferring to a different school, wanting to receive an apology from his former principal. Minack refused to apologize. “I said, 'unfortunately this is the first I've seen these allegations and from my point of view,'” he recalled. “These are unsubstantiated allegations.'"

Brighton Secondary denied legal liability

In a statement obtained by the Australian Jewish News, Minack along with three other teachers at Brighton Secondary College denied that the school was legally liable for its actions despite acknowledging the occurrence of “some acts of intolerance.”

“Those acts included some acts of antisemitism, but also included acts concerning physical appearance, sexual orientation and other attributes,” the statement read. “To the best of the respondents’ knowledge, the antisemitic acts were small in number and done by a small number of students.”

“To the best of the respondents’ knowledge, the antisemitic acts were small in number and done by a small number of students.”

Brighton Secondary College

The school also repudiated allegations that it normalized antisemitic attitudes. “The allegation of ‘antisemitic attitudes and apathy that flowed from the top down [and] which were normalised’ is wholly rejected. The respondents rejected all forms of intolerance, including antisemitism.”

As to preventing the spread of swastikas on campus, Minack testified that the school may not have been able to control the situation. “It’s possible we were incapable,” the principal testified, per The Age. “It’s possible, yeah.”