Special news: Antisemitic attack on Jewish school in Sofia


23 March 2010 Antisemitic attack on Jewish school in Sofia Middle East politics has poisoned the harmony of Bulgarian society with antisemitic graffiti being daubed on the walls of the capital Sofias only Jewish school. Vandals drew a comparison between the Star of David and the Nazi swastika together with the words stop occupation in Bulgarian at the Dimcho Debeljanov Jewish School, which is strongly supported by World ORT. The European Unions working definition of antisemitism recognises that drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is a form of antisemitism. Whether by accident or design, the vandals chose the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21) to spray slogans such as Israel Fascist! in Bulgarian and Free Palestine in English on the schools buildings. Antisemitic graffiti at Sofias only Jewish school with its call to stop occupation. World ORT has called on the Bulgarian authorities to bring those responsible to justice and to support the Jewish community against vilification and violence. Bulgaria is justifiably proud of its friendly and protective relations with its Jewish community. World ORT trusts that this outstanding tradition will be translated into constructive efforts to ensure that the ugly upsurge in antisemitism seen in so many parts of the world does not manifest itself in your beautiful country, the organisation said in a letter sent to Bulgarias Ministry of Education today. ORT Bulgaria Chairman Dr Emil Kalo, who is also a member of World ORT’s Board of Trustees, said antisemitic incidents like this were very rare in a country whose tradition of tolerance towards its Jewish minority experienced its zenith with the refusal to surrender its members to Nazi Germany during World War II. I was surprised to see this, Dr Kalo said. Although the anarchist symbol of an A in a circle is used in the graffiti we have received an email from the anarchist group in Sofia saying that they would never do something like this on a school building. It is clearly not an expression of antisemitism of the type emanating from the nationalist far right so I believe it is linked to recent violence in Israel. It is estimated that more than 8,000 Palestinian Arabs live in Sofia compared with approximately 1,500 Jews. The authorities are doing nothing about this, Dr Kalo said. It happens so rarely that it does not merit the attention of the authorities. Its being treated as a hooligan action. The representative organisation of the 5,000-strong Jewish community of Bulgaria, Shalom, has called on the countrys politicians to condemn the attack. It issued an official statement which said: This act of vandalism has been made a week before the Jewish holiday of Pesach and the Christian Easter. At a time when all people, without difference in ethnicity or religion, should open their hearts for the good, these vandals have sown hate; hate which verges on terrorism We appeal to citizens and to civil society to react definitely against such acts and to remember that whoever sows hate today reaps storms tomorrow. The European Jewish Congress has expressed its condemnation of the antisemitic attack saying, In times of political and economic uncertainty, governments and law-enforcement agencies must do their utmost to prevent and fight against the spread of hatred and racism. The Dimcho Debeljanov Jewish School, which boasts an advanced science and technology curriculum and in-depth training in various technological fields, has 750 Jewish and non-Jewish students in grades 1-12. While Jewish children have the automatic right to attend the school, competition among non-Jews for the remaining places is intense, with as many as six children trying for each place. Dr Kalo said an hour was set aside this week during classes for teachers to explain the graffiti attack to students. We stimulate open discussion on current affairs in Israel, particularly among senior students, he said. And there are students who express views on the Palestinian side. We simply try to explain the historical roots of the process.World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said the incident in Sofia only served to strengthen ORTs belief that education was the key to building understanding and respect between individuals and communities. World ORT is constantly working on promoting tolerance and fighting antisemitism and xenophobia, both in its educational institutions and in the international forums in which we are represented, Mr Singer said. This is not the first time that a school connected to ORT has been targeted by antisemites. We will raise this issue in every forum possible and we would welcome the Bulgarian governments cooperation. In addition to its on-going work to maintain and upgrade the schools ICT and technology facilities, World ORT is raising money towards a four-year programme to create a multimedia centre there. Funding from ORT Basel has seen the installation of a photo studio to prepare students in digital imaging skills. Another $200,000 is needed to develop a school radio and video broadcasting system and build an educational television and video studio. When completed, the multimedia centre will make Dimcho Debeljanov Jewish School the only school in Bulgaria using new technologies on this level. In 2003, the World ORT Executive Committee marked the organisations return to Bulgaria after an absence of more than 50 years by attending the inauguration of the Lauder-ORT Science and Technology Centre at the Dimcho Debeljanov Jewish School. The project enabled the school, which is a part of The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation educational network, to attain the status of a high school. At the same time, World ORT signed an agreement with the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science to promote on-going cooperation in information technology and computer studies at primary and secondary school and at further education establishments in Bulgaria. ORT began activities in Bulgaria in 1926. Coordinated with thee local Jewish authorities, its programmes included training workshops for woodwork, bookbinding, textiles and tailoring. After World War II, ORT re-established itself in Bulgaria, and in 1947, a technical school was opened in Sofia. Some 40,000 of the 50,000 Jewish population of Bulgaria subsequently emigrated to Israel, but ORT maintained its activities for the remaining members of the community until the authorities forced ORT out of the country in 1949. The school was transplanted, with its students and teachers to Jaffa, Israel where it became one of the first training units in Israel, a model from which a number of ORT schools in Israel were developed over the years.