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American Muslim and Jewish children experiencing bullying due to conflict in Palestine and Israel

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The U.S. is seeing a sharp increase in bullying, harassment, and even violence against members of Muslim and Jewish communities, including children, since the recent escalation in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Victims share their stories

Hebah Farrag, a Muslim mother of two, says her daughters were called “terrorists” by their classmates. One of her daughters is in middle school and the other is in elementary school. At a press conference about the incident, she said about one of her daughters, “Approached after school on the playground, she was asked if she supported Israel. When she didn’t know how to respond, she was branded a terrorist supporter: ‘Oh, you are one of them, a terrorist.’”

Shoshana Milich, mother of two Jewish middle schoolers and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, withdrew her kids from school after one of them experienced antisemitic harassment at school. She told Today, “My daughter, who is in middle school, was sitting with a friend at lunch when a student told them, ‘You two are Jewish, so you should go kill yourself.’” The students then made Nazi hand gestures in her direction.

Hate crimes and bullying on the rise

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported a 216 percent increase in reports of harassment or anti-Muslim bias during the month after the conflict started compared with the same time period last year. The Anti-Defamation League, a group working to combat antisemitism, reported a 388 percent increase in reports of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. 

College campuses in particular have seen a sharp rise in incidents of harassment and bullying of Muslim and Jewish students. Even young children have been victims of anti-Muslim or antisemitic hate since the beginning of the war. 

As Stephanie S. Fredrick, associate director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo tells Today, “Bullying tends to mirror what is happening generally in society. Kids are sponges, and they absorb everything adults say and do.”

How to protect your kids

Because kids absorb the world around them so easily, it’s important to pay close attention to what they’re being exposed to — especially during times of war and conflict. Talk to your kids about what they may have already seen on TV or online, and follow this script to help them process their feelings.

If you worry your child might face bullying by their peers, it can be helpful to practice some responses to use in the moment. Run through some scenarios with them and teach them some impactful ways to set boundaries with a bully

Most importantly, listen to and believe your child when they share any experiences or difficult feelings with you. Don’t interrupt, and let them lead the conversation. If they’re feeling scared to go to school or encounter a specific person they worry might bully them, help them identify at least one safe adult they can go to. You might even reach out to that person and let them know. If your child tells you about any bullying or harassment they’ve experienced, even minor incidents, it’s important to make a formal report with the school.

How to keep your kids from bullying others

Peer pressure is a powerful force, and can lead some kids to behave in unacceptable ways. Kids can be influenced by their friends, family members, and things they’ve seen or read online, including misinformation and disinformation.

If you worry your child may be bullying others online, this guide for parents may help you identify the problem and take some steps to address it. 

You can also ask your child these five questions to help them understand why bullying is never OK, and what to do instead when they’re feeling angry or frustrated with someone.

Teach your child to be an ally

It can be hard to step in and intervene when others are being harassed. This can be especially tricky for kids, who might not feel they have the authority to intervene, and often want to avoid standing out among peers. But it’s so important to learn to be an ally to those in need — you can teach your child to be an upstander, rather than a bystander, by helping them practice these five intervention strategies.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.