Jewish Student Files Complaint Against Houston High School...

Posted: 8/28/2016 1:49:00 PM
Author: Lea Speyer
Source: This interview/article was origially published in The algemeiner on August 24, 2016.

Jewish Student Files Complaint Against Houston High School for Failing to Discipline Antisemitic Activists (INTERVIEW)
by Lea Speyer

A Jewish student who filed a discrimination complaint against his high school accused administrators of not taking his grievances seriously because they were “mixing their political bias and their roles as disciplinarians.”

Eliav Terk — a recent graduate of Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston, Texas — told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that, during a nine-month controversy surrounding the actions of anti-Israel classmates, “The administration systematically attempted to silence me and disregard my complaint.”

Terk was referring to an event that took place last November, during the public school’s annual International Festival. At the fair, Terk recounted, Israeli flags on display were torn down or covered with Palestinian and Iranian flags. In addition, he said, several students wore Hamas-affiliated scarves and waved Palestinian flags while chanting, “Jerusalem is ours” and, “We’re coming for it.” Following the incident, Terk said, one student posted an antisemitic cartoon on Twitter, calling for an intifada against Israel.

While Terk said he did not attend the festival because it took place on a Friday night, when he was celebrating Shabbat with his family, several Jewish students present “later voiced their concerns to me — and several non-Jewish non-Jews took photos and sent them to me.”

Terk — a dual US-Israeli citizen — said he was prompted to take action when he discovered that no disciplinary measures had been or would be taken. Furthermore, he Terk told The Algemeiner, despite subsequent assurances from the principal, vice principal and dean of the school that they would investigate the matter, “They never looked into it and went back to ignoring me.”

The flag of Israel covered up by the Iranian flag. Photo: StandWithUs.
The Iranian flag covering the Israeli one. Photo: StandWithUs.

“Some administration members told me things such as, ‘The same way black comedians can say things about black people that white people can’t, you need to empathize with Palestinian students and see where they are coming from, their historical status and their history of being an oppressed and victimized people.’ That was their justification for the students’ antisemitic and anti-Zionist actions,” he said.

The events at the International Festival were the latest in a series of incidents highlighting a pervasive antisemitic and anti-Israel “culture” among some of the students at the school, Terk told The Algemeiner.

“I had antisemitic incidents directed at me personally,” he said. “I remember pretty vividly one time I left my laptop open during class while I went to the bathroom. When I returned, there was a Google image search open on my computer. The page showed images of ashes with the caption, ‘Eliav’s grandparents.’ In another instance, during my senior year art class, someone took wooden figurines and arranged them on my desk so that they were making the Nazi salute pointed towards me.”

At one point during what Terk called the “very extended process” into investigating the events at the festival, he said had given up hope of ever having the students held accountable. It was while attending an anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference sponsored by the Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs in the spring that he said he finally found it.

“I met with the head of the group’s legal staff and asked her what I could have done differently and better,” Terk told The Algemeiner. “She said I had done nothing wrong, and requested that I send her all the information I had documented.”

It was then, He said, that — with the legal aid of StandWithUs — Terk filed a grievance with the Houston Independent School District (HISD), claiming that Carnegie Vanguard was violating district policy by creating a hostile educational environment and ignoring harassment against a student based on religion, political affiliation and/or national origin. He also called for a formal investigation and the implementation of new procedures to “prevent further acts of intimidation, vandalism, bullying, and offensive conduct” against Jewish students.

Terk was recently informed by HISD Regional Superintendent Jennifer Topper that the school district concluded its investigation and will be implementing new protocols to prevent similar incidents.

“I really have to give credit to Topper, who was extremely understanding and took my complaints very seriously. I appreciate that tremendously, and am excited to see what reforms are put in place as an outcome to this entire incident,” Terk said.

However, he added, as far as he is aware, the perpetrators “were neither expelled nor suspended — or even given a detention or warning. The extent of the action by Carnegie Vanguard seems to be school administrators talking with them casually in the hallway between classes.”

Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said in a statement that the organization is “so proud of Eliav and this tremendous success. [He] has shown that through courage, persistence, documenting evidence, and teamwork, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bullying will not be tolerated. It will be exposed and there will be repercussions.”

Terk is now a freshman at the University of Texas-Austin and told The Algemeiner he is already part of various Israel-advocacy initiatives on campus. He said the entire experience with his high school taught him the importance of defending Israel and the Jewish people, stating, “It really extended my network of Israel advocacy and showed me there is an enormous support system for any student who takes it upon themselves to stand up for Israel.”

“I am eternally grateful for all the help StandWithUs gave me,” he said.