Jewish preschooler attacked in New Zealand

4-year-old boy wearing kippa hit on head on way home from school in what Jewish community is calling a hate crime

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a man with a kippa (via Shutterstock)
Illustrative photo of a man with a kippa (via Shutterstock)

A 4-year-old Jewish boy wearing religious garb was hit on the head in a suspected hate attack in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier this month.

The assault took place on November 14 as the boy walked home from school with his mother, his brother and a friend — but news of it was made public only on Sunday.

New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman said his organization agreed to hold off on issuing a press release until the local police had had sufficient time to get its investigation of the incident underway.

Goodman told The Times of Israel that the attack appeared to be racially motivated. The boy’s mother, who requested not to be identified by name, reported that a man of “Middle Eastern appearance” in his 20s approached her and the children, slapped her son hard on the top of his head, and then ran to a parked car with four people inside.

According to the mother, who ran to a friend’s house to report the incident to the police, the people inside the car were laughing and drove off as soon as the perpetrator was inside.

The police investigation of the incident is ongoing. However, law enforcement officials, unlike the Jewish community, are not officially characterizing the reported assault as a hate crime.

“We are working with the police to achieve a speedy resolution. They are concerned that it may be a hate crime but are being cautious about labeling it as one at this point,” said Goodman.

The incident was the third in recent months in which young New Zealander Jews were targeted, though it was the first in which physical violence was involved.

In August, a girl was walking with her father through a train station in central Auckland when a group of Middle Eastern men yelled at them in Arabic, “You Jewish pig!” In October, a group of men yelled “F-cking Jews!” at a boy as he walked in the Remuera suburb of Auckland.

“With Operation Protective Edge and the other events in the Middle East, there has been a noticeable increase of anti-Semitic incidents,” said Goodman, referring to Israel’s recent war against Hamas in Gaza.

‘With Operation Protective Edge and the other events in the Middle East, there has been a noticeable increase of anti-Semitic incidents’

“The desecration of the graves was the last major anti-Semitic incident,” he said, referring to vandalism that took place two years ago in the Jewish Karangahape Road Cemetery in Auckland.

Since then, there have been a number of what Goodman labeled “minor incidents,” such as anti-Semitic graffiti, and offensive messages on email and social media.

There has also been the display of swastikas and a burning of the Israeli flag, as well as what Goodman termed “highly offensive rhetoric,” at pro-Gaza rallies.

Anti-Semitism also tarred the run-up to national elections last September, when racist slurs were hurled at incumbent Prime Minister John Key, whose late Jewish mother, Ruth Lazar, escaped Europe on the eve of the Holocaust.

Key’s campaign billboards were defaced, and Steve Gibson, a candidate for the Labour Party, described Key as “Shonky Jonkey Shylock… nasty little creep with a nasty evil and vindictive sneer,” in a Facebook post.

Key was reelected to a third term, with his National Party winning 61 of the 121 seats in parliament.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. (screen capture: Youtube/nzheraldtv)
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (screen capture: YouTube/nzheraldtv)

A 2005 census found that there were 6,000 Jews living in the island nation. Goodman believes the number is actually higher, perhaps as high as 20,000. More than half of the Jewish community lives in Auckland, with one-quarter living in Wellington. Jews also reside in Hamilton, Christchurch, Nelson and Dunedin.

Goodman would not like to see the situation deteriorate for Jews in New Zealand to the point where they would feel uncomfortable wearing Jewish symbols or identifiably Jewish dress in public.

Despite Goodman’s assessment that the broader New Zealander community is in agreement that anti-Semitic and racist activity has no place and should be dealt with appropriately, the Jews’ worries about security are real and are being taken seriously.

“Concerns have been raised for some months and this incident has served to increase this,” Goodman said, referring to the attack on the preschooler with the kippa.

“Tighter security measures have been put in place, and we have, so far, continued with the public display of Jewish symbols,” he added.

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