LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Photos of teenagers in a California town performing a Nazi salute while standing around a swastika made of red cups have prompted an uproar and soul searching within the community.
The scandal erupted over the weekend after the pictures taken at a party attended by high school students from Newport Beach began circulating on social media.
"I was repulsed when I heard about it," Ms Martha Fluor, vice-president of the local school board, told AFP on Tuesday (March 5).
"It's disheartening that students who are receiving high-quality instruction in the classroom would engage in this type of behaviour."
She said school officials were working with law enforcement and community leaders to decide on any disciplinary action.
"We are taking this very seriously and held a public forum last night at Newport Harbour High School... and we are holding another forum on Thursday," Ms Fluor said.
She said about a half dozen students who attended the party read apologies at Monday's meeting and parents, students and community leaders had also come forward to express outrage.
Ms Fluor added that she had learned that at least two of the students involved in the incident were themselves Jewish and clearly didn't comprehend the seriousness of their actions.
She said the challenge for parents and the community as a whole was getting the message across that such behaviour carries consequences and cannot be blamed on ignorance or childish behaviour.
RISE IN ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS
"I mean, these students read about the Holocaust in the paper, in their textbooks, but it appears it's not enough," she said. "The conundrum we are facing is how do we make it real for students that such actions have lots of meaning... that they carry a lot of hurt and pain."
The scandal comes amid a rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 58 per cent increase in such incidents between 2016 and 2017, many of them in schools or on college campuses.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, said the scandal in Newport Beach should serve as a wake-up call that even liberal states like California are not immune to racism and bigotry.
"This is an insult to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust and to those who fought against occupation and to what we call America's greatest generation - those who went across to Europe... and so many who died to defeat the swastika," he told AFP.
Rabbi Cooper added that the students involved in the Newport Beach incident should be suspended in order to realise the seriousness of their actions.
The school district, he said, should also organise trips to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and talks with Holocaust survivors.
"We have to make it a teaching moment, but there also has to be some consequence," he said. "Because without the consequence, apologies always ring hollow."