When a student at Minnetonka High School in suburban Minneapolis posted an Instagram photo in January asking a girl out to a school dance using a series of Holocaust-related puns – and doing a Nazi salute in celebration – junior Ariella Fogel wasn’t surprised.
Ever since she transferred into the district in 6th grade, she says, she’s encountered anti-Semitism – Holocaust jokes, Nazi salutes, hateful comments about Israel.
What was surprising in this case, she said, was that none of her non-Jewish peers called the couple out on their behavior – which also included an anti-Semitic rap. It was only Jewish students who complained.
“That’s something that I’m trying to wrap my head around,” she said. “Why didn’t anyone speak up and say it’s not okay?”
Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said he was seeing a “swastika renaissance.” Incidents of high schoolers parroting Nazi imagery for laughs have been increasing around the country. Experts say the trend is driven by teens’ desires for validation, especially on social media – where many are also exposed to extremism and hatred. Ironically, Levin explained, the symbol has been “picked up by upper-middle-class white kids” hoping to take advantage of its shock value even as white nationalist groups have abandoned it in a bid to gain mainstream acceptability,
“Something that’s so offensive like that, I don’t know if it counts as being a teenager making a dumb mistake,” Fogel said. “Students at Minnetonka are held to such a high standard, and they absolutely know better.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s 2017 survey of kindergarten through high school, its most recent, found a 94% increase in anti-Semitic incidents.
Many of these cases – including several similar to what Fogel experienced – took place in areas where parents might think that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen: private schools or high-ranked public schools in wealthy areas.
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