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Kicked out of class for displaying Israeli flag

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Luke Lange is 12 years old and supports Israel. He’s not Jewish, but believes the Jewish state is “a great country”, and was concerned about the hatred directed at it during the recent conflict. He decided to express his support by hanging an Israeli flag on his bedroom wall. But when he appeared for online school with the flag behind him, he was told it was unacceptable by at least two teachers – one of whom kicked him out of class for not taking the flag down.

Lange is in Grade 7 at Pinnacle College in Linden, Johannesburg. In an online recording of one class, we see him sitting with the flag behind him. The teacher asks him to take it down. “I see nothing wrong with it,” says Lange. The teacher tells him, “It’s not going to be acceptable to other people from other cultures and races. So, it’s fine for you, and that’s fine. But it’s not so okay for other people. I need to ask you please not to display it like that.”

In another class, the teacher sees it, and tells him, “You are showing that you aren’t sympathetic to others’ feelings and thoughts. So if you can, please, in my lesson, take the flag down, I would really appreciate that. I would feel like you are respecting me and my thoughts and feelings. I understand you have freedom of speech, thought, and feelings, but we have to do that in a respectful way.”

When he doesn’t turn off his screen, she kicks him out of the class with the click of a button. “That solved that issue. If he cannot respect us or respect anyone else’s thoughts and feelings, he will not be a part of this meeting,” she says while Lange is offline.

Another pupil, who had the Danish flag in the background, said to the teacher, “No one’s being offended by a Danish flag. Why do they have to be offended by the Israeli flag? It’s his bedroom – he’s allowed to have what he wants on the wall.”

“The thing is, you can’t expect people to react to all kinds of nationalities and all kinds of people,” responds the teacher. “I’m all for diversity. I’m all for acceptance. But you cannot tell anyone that what they are feeling is wrong.”

“But then it’s both ways,” says the pupil. However, the teacher doesn’t agree. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, the pupil says she stood up for Lange because, “I was really angry. I felt it was wrong that Luke was being isolated like that. Everyone should be treated equally and with respect.”

Lange told the SA Jewish Report, “I didn’t expect anyone to care [about the flag]. It’s a normal flag. I never expected that from a teacher, especially when she removed me or said I wasn’t ‘sensitive enough’ to what others wanted. I felt like I was being oppressed and said so in the Zoom chat. That’s when I was removed from the class.”

At the same time, he felt empowered by sticking to his convictions, and knew that he had the right to freedom of expression. In fact, his school’s code of conduct says this explicitly. It also says, “Any distinction, exclusion, limitation, or preference made by a person in an authoritative position who uses unfair grounds to distinguish, exclude, limit, or prefer certain persons for any role or activity or benefit is prohibited.”

Lange is on school holidays, and is unsure how he will be treated on his return to school. “I stood up for myself so that other kids don’t feel scared to express themselves,” he says. To the South African Jewish community, he says, “Stand up for your rights – your right to support Israel and be proud, your free speech, and freedom of religion.”

Lange’s father, Frederick Lange, says it has been hard to watch his son be treated this way, but he’s proud of him. “Children should have a voice. Other pupils at the school are able to express themselves in the religious clothes they wear. Just recently, tests were postponed because of a religious holiday. But it seems like no one else counts – and that has a terrible effect on a child. It’s supposed to be a safe environment. He’s so strong in his beliefs, but I’m worried about the impact of this experience, especially when the teacher kicked him out and then discussed him with the class, and he wasn’t there to defend himself.”

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report as a parent of one of the children in the class, and as project manager at the Institute of Race Relations, Terence Corrigan says, “I have nothing but the highest regard for the school and its staff. But as both a parent and a professional political analyst, I find the manner in which this was handled concerning.

“There’s a principle here,” he says. “It sends a message that offence is enough to shut someone down. Is this really what we want to communicate to our children in a world where they are never going to be able to avoid wildly divergent views?

“Ultimately, it’s about consistency,” he says. “You can’t accept some forms of politics but not others – for example, Black Lives Matter but not Israel. Either it must all be restricted, or you allow a wide, even-handed berth.”

Advocate Mark Oppenheimer, who has an interest in constitutional law, notes that, “The underlying premise of the teacher’s position is that people’s feelings cannot be questioned and that the best way to respect people’s feelings is through censorship, warding off anything that could make anyone uncomfortable. She claims to respect free speech while at the same time demanding that the student remove his camera and block the background, which would, of course, not be respecting his right to free speech. It might be sufficient to protect his right to private property – in the sense that he’s free to have the flag up in his room – but his expression requirement is that he can express that image to others, and she’s intruding on that right.

“The situation in which the other child raises the Danish flag is an excellent example of reductio ad absurdum,” Oppenheimer says. “In other words, she takes the teacher’s position and reduces it to the absurd. Her actions say, ‘I have put up a flag of another nation, which also has a religious symbol on it [a cross], and if you think that I should be free to have this image up but that he shouldn’t be free to have the Star of David in his background, then there’s a problem.’”

Oppenheimer says there are double standards at play, and “if you indulge feelings as a reason for censoring, then it’s very hard to put the genie back in the bottle”.

Mike Aitken, the managing director of ADvTECH schools (which includes Pinnacle College Linden), says, “Our review of this incident is ongoing, and includes discipline considerations, coaching, support, and education/training.

“When viewed in isolation, the video doesn’t reflect all relevant events surrounding this incident or align with how we would have wanted this [to be] managed. We are taking action to ensure that our staff are better empowered to deal with situations in online classes that trigger this sort of response. Unfortunately, school holidays and responses since the event have detracted from us using this as a teaching moment as emotions became heated very quickly, and some associated and consequent conduct wasn’t aligned with our values.

“We unequivocally accept Luke’s right to have the Israeli flag,” he says. “We equally understand that for some students, its symbolism is triggering and traumatising, and their rights are as important. As an inclusive South African school, we rely on temperance from everyone as we learn together what a respectful and diverse world can be like.

“We prefer not to have any religious or political symbolism on display in our classes as this can detract from the scheduled teaching and learning process. That being said, we expect this preference and situation to be managed collaboratively and compassionately. We always remain willing to facilitate respectful discussions between students on potentially emotive topics, but prefer these be handled in a planned and managed way so as to derive the greatest understanding and benefit for all parties involved.”

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. chave

    Jul 8, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    You would think that I teacher would have some brains and a brave young man Luke for standing up for his believes

  2. Erene Schwarz

    Jul 8, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    We know this family. They are great people with open hearts and compassion for others . We have know Luke since he was a baby. . We are proud of his stand and for his convictions. I don’t see how the teachers can be so aggressive over what he has in his bedroom or what believes is right. Where is his freedom of speech? Sadly this is the sign of the days we live in but we will continue to stand for truth. Well done Luke. Don’t give in to the bullies !

  3. Barbara Levin

    Jul 8, 2021 at 9:49 pm

    Brave Luke Lange I hope he continues to stand for diversity and human rights . These do not pertain only to Black and Asian people but to Jews and Israel too. The teacher’s behaviour certainly indicates her prejudice

  4. Sarlina

    Jul 8, 2021 at 10:03 pm

    I believe this young man is brave and strong. Every person is free to believe the truth in his own house, not as media presents it. Truth sets one free, brings life and hope for all people. Go, Luke!

  5. Pam

    Jul 12, 2021 at 8:19 am

    Clear bias and unprofessional behaviour on the part of the teacher – should be fired, we don’t want people like this poisoning the minds of the generation that is going to be the future of this country. Get rid of her, quicksmart.

  6. Dan nitzan

    Jul 13, 2021 at 4:22 am

    RESPECT young man. 1 of Our future leaders

  7. MaryAnn

    Jul 16, 2021 at 2:08 am

    Good for you Luke! The teacher should be reprimanded and fired! Absolutely prejudiced behavior on the teacher’s part. I think the school could have been much firmer in their stance and insisted on an apology to him from the teacher and school district!

  8. Ruven Golan

    Jul 17, 2021 at 3:51 am

    Anti-Semitism

  9. Avraham

    Jul 23, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    The teacher do what their management allow. This is pure anti semitism, no use not seeing the elephant in the room.

  10. Mark Jacobovitch

    Jul 23, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Wtg Luke

  11. Craig

    Jul 27, 2021 at 4:45 am

    Thank you Luke, from a Jew in America! If you give in to antisemitic hate like the teacher wanted you to, it would only get worse. The teacher should be investigated, I have a feeling she supports Islamic terrorist groups. I read about this on Israellycool.com

  12. Marden Paul

    Jul 30, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    This situation is becoming all too common. There’s an adage about a spider web. Every day, a spider makes a beautiful web. Every night, a human destroys the web. The spider re-weaves and the human destroys. Eventually, the spider gives up making perfect webs and they degrade. The spider gives up because of the constant pressure on its life. Be brave Luke. Don’t give in to ignorance and hate.

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SA Jewry’s pandemic response unique and robust, experts say

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The South African Jewish community’s response to the pandemic has been singled out as unique, efficient, and robust in an academic paper that tracks how the community galvanised itself from March to October 2020.

From the start of hard lockdown, “It became apparent to me that our response as a community was unusually speedy, pro-active, and comprehensive,” says Leah Gilbert on what motivated her to write the paper. “I was impressed with the fact that we used the expertise available among us to inform the community. In addition, the quick emergence of support programmes for people who were infected was unique.”

Gilbert is emeritus professor of Health Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she taught and researched health and disease in the social context for 35 years. Her daughter and fellow author of the article, Shirli Gilbert, is professor of Modern Jewish History at University College London, and academic director of the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre.

The article has already been accessed almost 1 000 times online, a high number for an academic study of this kind. The authors hope it will be useful for understanding communal responses to the pandemic in South Africa and in other communities worldwide.

Of all the Jewish communities in the world, why did they decide to focus on this one? “During the first lockdown in Johannesburg, observing through my professional lens my society’s relationship to health and disease, I had the idea of documenting our community’s response to the pandemic,” says the elder Gilbert.

“It began with the first SA Jewish Report webinar with medical experts, and the subsequent dissemination and sharing of knowledge and activities,” she says. “I approached my daughter, whose research focuses on the South African Jewish community, and we started collecting relevant material.

“The community’s response to the pandemic spanned the gamut from physical and mental health to religious observance, home schooling, financial relief, food aid, and social-welfare support,” Gilbert says. “The common theme among the initiatives was the efficiency with which resources were mobilised, something possible only because of a robust and highly centralised pre-existing communal infrastructure and strong networks of social capital.”

In their paper, they note that, “The unique response of the South African Jewish community to COVID-19 must be understood within the larger context of the relationship between Jews and health. Scholarship suggests that Jews have a heightened concern for health relative to other groups.”

They also write that “unlike other diaspora communities, in South Africa, a great deal of emphasis has historically been placed on communal unity”. Another unique factor is that “following the transition [to democracy], communal investment in outreach has expanded significantly”.

“Taken together, the centrality of health, robust communal infrastructure, and strong community social capital against the background of the Jewish community’s particular positioning in post-apartheid South Africa helps to account for the uniquely co-ordinated, energetic, and multipronged nature of the community’s pandemic response.”

However, the community also faced many challenges during the pandemic. “The ageing nature of the Jewish community in South Africa meant that the percentage of vulnerable people was relatively high,” says the elder Gilbert.

“This higher risk profile helps to explain the motivation for the quick and powerful mobilisation of resources. There was some friction around the question of how support for Jewish communal welfare fitted alongside South African Jews’ commitment to broader South African society. On the whole, however, evidence suggests that community support for both ‘inreach’ and ‘outreach’ initiatives has been generous and widespread.

“The pandemic has also been difficult for this community in particular because of the extent to which Jewish families are dispersed across the world, which meant long periods of time for families to be apart.”

Another challenge has been resources, especially financial. As they write, “despite the robustness of the community’s infrastructure and its still considerable resources, there are concerns about its long-term health and prospects. On 19 June [2020], the Chev [Chevrah Kadisha] was forced for the first time in its 132-year history to call for emergency financial support. Its work in both residential care and financial assistance – sectors especially impacted by the pandemic – left it severely exposed, and with almost no state support and overwhelming reliance on private donor funds, it was placed under unprecedented strain.

“The community remains highly vigilant, and co-ordinated leadership continues to be delivered by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the office of the chief rabbi, and the Chevrah Kadisha, together with other organisations and in partnership with Jewish experts,” they write in their conclusion. “Some cracks, however, are already beginning to show. The extent to which it will be possible to retain the strength and co-ordination of these responses as the pandemic’s severe effects persist remains to be seen.”

They researched their subject by collecting data from all issues of South African Jewish publications during the period under study (March to October 2020). This included the SA Jewish Report, the Cape Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Life, and Jewish Affairs, as well as websites, social media, and other public communications of major communal institutions, the office of the chief rabbi, and Jewish-led relief initiatives and organisations. “The analysis of the data took two months, after which we wrote up the article itself,” says the younger Gilbert.

The SA Jewish Report was one of their prime resources, “since it provided granular detail of what was happening on a weekly basis, both events and ongoing discussions and debates. The SA Jewish Report webinars were also key as they were helping to provide support and access to information that the community needed,” she says.

Asked how they think the South African Jewish community will emerge from the pandemic, they say, “The conclusion [of the paper] is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, the article emphasises the robustness of the community’s infrastructure and its considerable resources, which have allowed it to mount an impressive response to the pandemic.

“On the other hand, the enormous challenges posed by the pandemic have also heightened existing feelings of precariousness and vulnerability within the community. The economic future of largely self-funded Jewish communal organisations is uncertain, emigration is ongoing and possibly increasing, and the self-employed (among whom Jews are strongly represented) have been hard-hit,” according to the elder Gilbert.

Asked if they will conduct research on the South African Jewish community in future, the younger Gilbert says, “My historical research on the South African Jewish community is ongoing. I’m working on a study of German Jews who came to South Africa in the 1930s, as well as a special journal issue on South African Jews co-edited with Professor Adam Mendelsohn. In October-November 2021, I’ll be teaching a six-part online course on Jews in South Africa for the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre. Everyone is welcome.”

  • The academic paper can be accessed by searching “South African Jewish Responses to COVID-19” on Google.
  • The Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre course can be accessed by looking at the “What’s On” tab on www.sirmartingilbertlearningcentre.org

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JNF-SA trail commemorates “Great Jewish Escape”

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Between 1945 and 1948, up to 300 000 Holocaust survivors and Jewish partisans were rescued across war-ravaged Europe in preparation to enter British-occupied eretz Yisrael before the declaration of the Jewish state. Yet, the remarkable achievements of the Bricha (escape or flight) Movement have been all but forgotten in Israel today.

The Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF-SA) is trying to change that by creating the Shvi Bricha walking trail in the Carmel mountain range in Israel’s north. It symbolises the thousands of kilometres traversed on foot by the Bricha Movement to freedom.

The Bricha – the Great Jewish Escape – was the topic of a webinar hosted by the JNF-SA and the South African Zionist Federation last week.

Pre-eminent Holocaust historian Professor Yehuda Bauer wrote one of the only books on the Bricha, published in 1974. He explained how in July 1944, Abba Kovner, a Jewish partisan commander, travelled to Soviet-occupied Vilnius in Lithuania to convince the authorities to let the Jews leave.

“It was a hopeless endeavour,” said Bauer. Zionist youth movements became active leaders in the Bricha, the clandestine, underground movement to rescue partisans (and later, survivors and those who were hidden) to smuggle them out of Europe.

After the war, millions of people were on the move throughout Europe. At first, there were no separate displaced persons camps for Jewish survivors, and they had to fight for recognition of their Jewish national identity. The Bricha Movement was central to these efforts.

In September 1945, the first shlichim (emissaries) from eretz Yisrael arrived in Europe to co-ordinate the Great Jewish Escape. One was Tzvi Netzer, himself an escapee from Europe just two years before, proficient in German, Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish. Bricha leaders had to bribe many border officials across Europe to allow people to pass into different countries, from Poland to Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Allied-occupied Germany and Austria. They needed graphic designers to forge visas and other official documents. Sometimes, the Jewish groups pretended to be Greeks returning home. They spoke Hebrew, passing it off as Greek to the none-the-wiser Polish authorities. The entire operation was funded by the Joint (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee).

Many gathered in displaced persons camps, and then eventually moved on to Greece, Italy, and France and then on to eretz Yisrael by ship as part of “Aliyah Bet” in defiance of the British naval blockade curbing Jewish immigration before 1948.

“It was absolutely amazing,” said Bauer. “It was the largest illegal mass movement in Europe in the twentieth century. Without the Bricha, there would have been no state of Israel. The Holocaust almost destroyed the hope of a Jewish state. Vast numbers of potential immigrants were killed. The displaced persons camps and the Bricha put pressure on the British and United States to help create the state.”

Professor Avinoam Patt from the University of Connecticut is the author of Finding Home and Homeland: Jewish Youth and the Bricha after the Holocaust. He noted that about 75% to 80% of Holocaust survivors were aged between 17 and 35. Most had lost their entire families and their homes. They faced enduring antisemitism in Europe (such as the devastating Kielce pogrom in Poland in 1946) and had to take control of their lives. With other avenues closed and feeling unwelcome in Europe, many embraced Zionism, helping to revive Zionist youth movements decimated in the war. Some set up kibbutzim – communal farms – in Europe, to learn agriculture in preparation for aliyah.

“The Bricha Trail is now an open-air museum and major educational tool of the Great Jewish Escape,” said Dr Omri Bone from the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, the JNF-SA’s parent body. He lauded JNF-SA for its efforts to make this become a reality.

Dr Miri Nehari, a clinical and educational psychologist, is the chairperson of the Bricha Legacy Association in Israel. She is the daughter of Tzvi Netzer. “The Bricha isn’t known, spoken about, or researched in Israel,” she said. “The Shvi Habricha is the only commemoration for the Bricha Movement. The association receives no funding from the state. Its main argument is that it didn’t take place on the soil of Israel.” She says the neglect of the Bricha reflects a deeper ambivalence about the Holocaust and its role in the formation of the state of Israel.

Hopefully, JNF-SA’s efforts will start to change all that.

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Taliban takeover – a booster shot for radical Islamists

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The rapid assumption of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan as the United States (US) withdrew its forces will have ramifications far beyond Central Asia, not least for Israel, according to veteran US diplomat and academic Ambassador Dennis Ross.

Ross, who advised the Clinton and Obama Administrations, was interviewed by Carly Maisel in a Lockdown University webinar, broadcast by the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre on 28 August.

“Begun in 2001, Afghanistan was the longest war in US history,” Ross said. “Afghanistan is known as the ‘death knell of empires’, as discovered by the British, the Soviets, and now the Americans.”

President Donald Trump wanted the US out of Afghanistan, what he called a “forever war”. From a high of 150 000 US troops, there were just 2 500 remaining when Joe Biden assumed office in 2021. He, too, was determined to leave Afghanistan. In spite of investment of more than $85 billion [R1.2 trillion] in the Afghan army over 20 years [and more than $1 trillion (R14.6 trillion) spent on the war in total] “there was massive corruption and poor morale. It was a hollow force,” Ross said.

After being vanquished in just six weeks in 2001, the Taliban melted away, bided its time, and regrouped, drawing support from local populations and neighbours such as Pakistan. “Afghan governments looked like foreign implants; they were corrupt and lacked credibility. This helped the Taliban gradually rebuild itself,” said Ross.

The new Taliban government wants international support and recognition. It has therefore sought to project a more moderate image than it had in its first stint in government from 1996-2001. Its pronouncements about being more tolerant towards women’s rights, for example, don’t convince Ross.

“The risk is that the Taliban victory acts as a recruitment tool – a booster shot for radical Sunni Islamists. They have portrayed the US withdrawal as a great victory on social media. They want to show they’re back in business,” said Ross.

So what effect will it have on the region and wider international community?

Iran has a history of hostility and suspicion for the Taliban. They almost went to war in 1998, after the killing of nine Iranian diplomats by the Taliban. Also, the Taliban are radical Sunni Salafists who see Shia Iran as heretics; neither side is tolerant. The Taliban has profited from the opium trade from Afghani poppy fields, fuelling drug addiction in Iran.

Nevertheless, the two have been building a relationship over the past few years, including Iran arming the Taliban. “They have a shared desire to see the defeat of the US everywhere, and seek its humiliation,” said Ross. “Their commentary has been gloating.” He predicts that the new Iranian government will be even more confrontational with the US, and will “want more, for less” in any renegotiated nuclear deal with the US and its allies.

Israel has received support from the US, which has resupplied weapons to Israel after the clashes with Gaza, and continued financial support. “But Israel has always told everyone that ultimately, it needs to depend on itself. This has always been part of the Israeli ethos. It will never ask the US to die for it. Israel will defend itself by itself. The American experience in Afghanistan has only deepened this sense,” said Ross. The security establishment wants the US to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal not because it thinks it’s a good deal, but so that it can buy the time Israel needs to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, by force if needed.

Pakistan has provided sanctuary for Taliban leaders, partly to undermine Indian influence in Afghanistan. It has suffered heinous terror attacks by the Taliban, but sees everything through its struggle with India. The world must be wary of a nuclear-armed Pakistan, with growing radicalism.

Russia hasn’t rushed to recognise the Taliban government. It has kept its embassy open, and has a “wait and see” attitude. By conducting military exercises in the former Soviet republic, Tajikistan, President Vladimir Putin is sending a message to the Taliban and other radical Islamists: don’t mess with us, according to Ross. But, “Russia, too, will celebrate every US defeat.”

China may seek to exploit large lithium deposits in Afghanistan, but it, like Russia, fears Islamist insurrection in its vast territory. Getting to the lithium would require major investment, and China may incorporate it into its “Belt and Road” initiative – a grand plan to build supportive infrastructure on China’s main trade routes.

“China and Russia will seek to take some advantage, but will both tread carefully because of profound suspicion of the Taliban,” Ross said.

Looking ahead, Ross said there could be civil strife within the Taliban. “We may face a mess for some time to come in Afghanistan. I’d love to say we achieved something, but at what price? We hoped we would see competence after the chaotic dysfunction of the Trump presidency. It sure doesn’t look like it. We’ll need some foreign policy successes.”

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