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Attack on Herzlia ‘a shameful political ploy’



The African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), apparently desperate to deflect attention from their support of Russia and gain votes, have chosen to target a Jewish school in Cape Town, hoping to sow division and attain popularity.

Wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, EFF Member of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) Aishah Cassiem called for United Herzlia Schools to be “deregistered, based on the school being pro-Israel” during a debate in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament on 15 June.

This was after ANC provincial education spokesperson Muhammad Khalid Sayed called on Education Member of the Executive Council David Maynier in the Western Cape Legislature to intervene in Herzlia’s Zionist education.

That followed an interview with an Israeli TV news channel in which Herzlia directors said that some Jewish students go to Israel after school.

Maynier said Sayed’s question was asked merely to deflect attention from South Africa’s approach to Russia and Ukraine.

“We need to pause for a moment and be honest about what this is really about. It’s obvious that it’s clearly an attempt to use a school to pivot, deflect, and draw attention away from the monumental international-relations shambles of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “The fact is, South Africa’s warm embrace of Russia is a clear and present danger. That’s the real issue.”

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, Maynier said, “We confirm that the school won’t be deregistered, and that this was nothing more than a disgraceful attempt to deflect attention away from their support of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”

During the debate, African Christian Democratic Party MPL Ferlon Christians said, “It’s absolutely shameful that a question like this was posed in this house. This school, Herzlia, is doing exceptionally well, with 100% pass rate and more than 95% of its students obtaining university exemption. The ANC will stoop so low to bring it [the school] to this house. Why?” he asked repeatedly. “Don’t use schoolchildren for your political agenda. You have no right. I had the privilege to visit the school not so long ago, and I’ll go back and learn from them how we improve our education system because they are an example.”

Said Maynier, “The ANC-led national government is arranging to send children from South Africa to Russia in November. The paperwork I have seen makes reference to training, use of surveillance equipment, and protecting information against internal threats. Sending our children to a country engaged in a war and accused of child abduction is surely not something that can be sanctioned. I have informed national government that our department won’t participate in any of these programmes.”

Speaking after the debate, Christian View Network spokesperson Philip Rosenthal condemned what he said was “an attack by Muslim ANC and EFF members of the Western Cape Legislature on Herzlia. The debate is the climax of a string of unwarranted Muslim anti-Israel verbal attacks harassing and threatening Cape Town Jewish institutions and leaders.”

The motion was rejected in the legislature, but Cassiem went on to defame the school further in an interview with Salaam Media. Wearing red overalls and a keffiyeh, she touted conspiracy theories of the school being akin to a training ground for militants. She also mentioned community members linked to the school, and implied that their businesses should be boycotted.

She continuously emphasised that the school was “allowed” to be Jewish, but “not allowed” to be Zionist. The presenter enforced these views, asking if there were “other little pockets around the country with the same agenda, grooming children”.

Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape SAJBD) Chairperson Adrienne Jacobson says, “The Cape SAJBD is deeply concerned by the EFF’s latest public attack on members of the Herzlia Board, displaying photographs and names on social media. The Cape SAJBD won’t stand by and allow this political grand-standing to continue. It’s a shameful attack on the largest and most prestigious Jewish school in the Western Cape. We’ll continue to support Herzlia and its leadership, and will fight the ANC, EFF, and all other organisations’ reprehensible attempts to deregister the school. This is just the latest unsuccessful attempt by anti-Israel lobbyists to intimidate the Cape Town Jewish community.

“We reassure our Jewish community not to be concerned about the baseless claims against the school,” she said. “Nor should it be concerned by the attempts to have the school deregistered. The Herzlia tradition of providing world-class education for our children will continue for years to come. We call on our government and religious community leaders to condemn the continuing attacks on the Cape Town Jewish community.”

“Herzlia doesn’t encourage a specific political ideology, and accepts pupils with diverse political views of both South Africa and Israel,” says Herzlia’s director of Jewish identity and community, Geoff Cohen. “Herzlia believes unapologetically that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state, and South Africans have a right to have a relationship with the Jewish state. Jews throughout the world have a connection to the holy land, be it religious, cultural, or historic. The school reflects the overtly Zionist nature of South African Jewry and as such, we celebrate our students’ connection with the Jewish homeland.”

Deputy shadow minister for employment and labour, Michael Bagraim, says, “The insidious attack made by both the ANC and the EFF is unfortunately nothing new. These issues raise their ugly heads as politics get hotter in South Africa. We’re facing a watershed election. The EFF and ANC are fighting desperately to create ‘wedge issues’. One of these is the comparison of Zionism to apartheid.

“There’s a belief within the ranks of the ANC and the EFF that the Democratic Alliance [DA] is vocal in its support of Israel,” he says. “The DA doesn’t see Israel or the issues in the Middle East as being relevant to the South African problems that we are experiencing on a daily basis.

“This negative rhetoric merely drives the growth of antisemitism. We all know that the nature of modern antisemitism isn’t to refer to Jews directly, but to refer to Israel. This crude rehash of millennia of antisemitism is unfortunately raising its head in the political arena in South Africa. It’s antisemitism when they mention local businesses and Jewish personalities, and ask people to boycott them.”

South African Zionist Federation National Chairman Rowan Polovin says, “Herzlia is a respected Jewish school in South Africa, recognised as a leader in education in the Western Cape. Its alumni have made enormous and inordinate contributions to all levels of South African society. As a Jewish school with Jewish students and teachers, it’s intrinsically Zionist, with an unbreakable and proud connection to the world’s only Jewish state of Israel.

“It’s a travesty that antisemites are again finding ways to target people of the Jewish faith in South Africa under the thin veil of anti-Zionism, and it’s shameful that they are singling out a Jewish school to promote their hatred,” he says. “Instead of uniting and building bridges across all racial and religious groupings in South African society, these extremists wish to divide. Herzlia, as a Jewish school, promotes religious tolerance, non-racialism, understanding, and charity – the very antithesis to what these groupings are about.”

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