Police are investigating what caused a mob of students to hound a terrified New York teacher for expressing support for Israel last week – but some already know the answer.
“It went from a teacher just changing a photograph on her social profile to this contagion of hate being released in the halls of Hillcrest High School,” City Councilman James Gennaro, D-Queens, said according to the New York Post. “It’s a sad commentary on the rancid hate that exists within the hearts of students for Jews.”
Hundreds of students formed a violent mob Nov. 20, vandalizing their school and threatening violence against the teacher over her support for Israel. She had posted a picture of herself on social media attending a pro-Israel rally and holding a sign that read “I stand with Israel,” the Post reports.
The teacher narrowly escaped the mob’s wrath by holing up in a locked office. As hundreds of unruly students reportedly chanted “free Palestine,” and that the teacher “needs to go,” some of them attempted to enter the office but were thwarted by specially trained school staff and safety agents.
The situation became so dire Gennaro said he was told more than two dozen NYPD officers were sent to restore order – and that the department enlisted its counterterrorism task force to investigate the frightening incident.
“Whether it was one student or multiple students who did or said something, whatever the trigger was, something happened,” Gennaro said. “And I know from my many years on the city council that the counterterrorism task force is not engaged unless they believe it is potentially a serious situation.”
City Councilman Robert Holden, D-Queens, said he was shocked the students “would gang up on a teacher and harass her,” calling it the result of radical ignorance and prejudice.
“I don’t know why these students are so misinformed, so intolerant and so radicalized,” he said. “They don’t even know the history of the Middle East. They haven’t been taught that.”
The riot, which the Post described as “one of the most frightening incidents of antisemitism in New York schools and colleges since the Hamas massacre in Israel Oct. 7,” was finally over after about two hours when police and school staff regained control of the school and escorted the teacher out of the building to safety.
There was no immediate estimate for the physical damage the students caused, but video clips circulating on social media show a water fountain torn from the wall and broken tile in a boys’ restroom.
Perhaps the most significant damage done, though, was to that of the teacher’s psyche. She told the Post in a statement she was utterly demoralized by the frightening incident and the threats against her.
“I have been a teacher for 23 years in the New York City public school system – for the last seven at Hillcrest High School,” she said. “I have worked hard to be supportive of our entire student body and an advocate for our community, and was shaken to my core by the calls to violence against me that occurred online and outside my classroom last week.
“No one should ever feel unsafe at school – students and teachers alike. It’s my hope in the days ahead we can find a way to have meaningful discussions about challenging topics with respect for each other’s diverse perspectives and shared humanity. Unless we can learn to see each other as people we will never be able to create a safe learning community.”
Some parents and the school’s principal were also distraught at what took place.
“When I saw the videos that came out, Hillcrest looks very bad on social media,” a Hillcrest mom said at a PTA meeting the following day. “I’ve never seen this happening at Hillcrest.”
“There are 2,500 students,” Principal Scott Milczewski said. “Adults will always be outnumbered. I think that’s something we have to understand. And that’s why we’re asking you to speak to your children. We need your support with this.”
An 18-year-old student was reportedly arrested the day after the riot, and at least three others are facing the possibility of a superintendent’s suspension.
New York Mayor Eric Adams denounced the incident online.
“The vile show of antisemitism at Hillcrest High School was motivated by ignorance-fueled hatred, plain and simple, and it will not be tolerated in any of our schools, let alone anywhere else in our city,” Adams wrote in a post on X. “We are better than this.”
A New York City Department of Education spokesperson also condemned the incident in a statement released to the press:
“We are aware of the completely unacceptable incident that occurred at Hillcrest High School last week. And our safety team is actively collaborating with the superintendent and principal to fully investigate the matter and protect the safety of both students and staff. No form of hate, whether it be antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of bigotry will be tolerated in our schools.”