The front page of an Australian newspaper after the attack on Jewish school bus.
The front page of an Australian newspaper after the attack on Jewish school bus. Photo by Dan Goldberg
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AFP
A rally in Sydney against Israel's military campaign in Gaza on, August 3, 2014. Photo by AFP

Sydney, AUSTRALIA — Sydney’s Jewish community is reeling following a chilling incident on Wednesday in which eight drunk teenage boys boarded a school bus transporting Jewish students, threatened to slit their throats and hurled anti-Semitic abuse at the children. Police allege the youths then racially taunted some of the kids and physical threatened others. One of the parents alleged the offenders yelled “Kill the Jews” and “Heil Hitler.” No one was injured.

Five teenagers were arrested at 3.30 A.M. local time Thursday, but were too drunk to be interviewed, police confirmed. They were released without charge into their parents’ custody and were expected to be questioned by police later Thursday, a police spokesman told Haaretz.

He said police were still searching for several other youths believed to have been engaged in the scene, which has been widely condemned inside and outside of the Jewish community.

Police also said they did not believe it to be a targeted attack on the students because they were Jewish.

But Jewish community leaders deplored what they described as an act of anti-Semitism.

Yair Miller, the president of the Jewish community in Sydney, said it was “a despicable and cowardly act.”

“It appears that this is a random anti-Semitic bullying episode that has been perpetrated by a group of Caucasian teenagers,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry issued a statement Wednesday saying it was “deeply concerned” by the incident, and the spike in anti-Semitic incidents since the war in the Gaza Strip began.

“We as a community are profoundly troubled by this latest event and the sequence of anti-Semitic incidents that has preceded it.”

It cited the attack on a visiting rabbi from Jerusalem who was set upon by a gang of youths in Perth earlier this week; the daubing of Perth’s only Jewish school with the words “Zionist scum” two weeks ago; and a Melbourne man was recently called a “Jewish dog” and beaten by two men.

“It is completely unacceptable and morally repugnant to scapegoat or hold responsible Jewish Australians, including children, for events overseas,” the ECAJ said.

Malcolm Turnbull, the communications minister whose electorate includes the bulk of the kids aboard the bus, said: “The report today of young men boarding a school bus in my electorate and then abusing the young Jewish students with frightening, threatening, violent and anti-Semitic language will strike a chill into the heart of every parent, indeed every Australian.”

Mark Dreyfus, a Jewish lawmaker in the opposition Labor Party, urged authorities to impose “whatever penalty they can” on the assailants. “Every child in Australia has the right to go to school, has the right to be free in the street, on a bus, anywhere in our community, without being exposed to this kind of disgraceful attack.”

New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff made the connection with the war in Gaza. “What we have seen here in Sydney in the last few weeks is political protest segueing into racial hatred, into anti-Semitism here on the streets of Sydney.”

About 30 children, aged 5 to 12, from Moriah College, Mt. Sinai College and Emanuel School were aboard the bus when the driver stopped to collect a group of eight boys aged 15 to 17.

The buses are not exclusively chartered by the Jewish schools, but are run by the State Transport Authority. Drivers can stop to pick up other school students.

Sydney’s 45,000-strong Jewish community awoke to a screaming headline splashed across the front page of Sydney’s major tabloid, The Daily Telegraph: “Hate Bus.”

The story generated mass media coverage throughout the day, and has made international headlines.

One mother, Jacqui Blackburn, told local media that her 12-year-old daughter said the gang had threatened to “slit the children’s throats.”

Facebook was ablaze with posts, most of them irate, some inflammatory.

But another mother, Isabelle Stanton, whose two daughters were on the bus, told Haaretz: “My two girls were definitely scared,” she said. “The language they used was definitely scary and definitely strong. I don’t think they were physically threatened though.

“They’re all right, they’ve been a bit fragile today but they went to school.”

She added: “I feel overwhelmed but I said to the school I feel that it was just an isolated act. I don’t feel like it was premeditated or that they planned to be on that bus and say all those terrible things.

“Because of the situation in Israel we are all extra-sensitive and the media has been so biased that these boys probably repeated what they heard.

“I think we are dealing with ignorant young children,” Stanton said. “I don’t want to jump the gun and think this is anti-Semitism in Australia.”

But Stanton said she couldn’t understand why the driver picked the gang up, and why he didn’t raise an alarm when the racial abuse began.

“My children said they didn’t wear school uniforms. The driver has a lot to answer for,” she said. “My daughter went to tell him they were not supposed to be here and he didn’t do anything.”

Police, however, said the driver told them he was unaware of what happened.