Jewish school uproar over dep head boy's Palestinian scarf

  • Josh Broomberg pic w Palestinian scarf
A furore erupts at a prestigious Johannesburg Jewish school, King David Victory Park, after the deputy head boy Joshua Broomberg, posed in a photograph on Facebook with a Palestinian scarf. A petition demanding his removal from his position, evokes a counter-petition from former student leaders demanding respect for his freedom of expression.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Aug 12, 2014

The first petition, which was reported by website to have garnered over 1 200 signatories, was started by a “Concerned Zionist” and says Broomberg must be removed from his post as deputy head boy for “bringing the school into disrepute”. It has been signed by former KDVP graduates from all over the world, parents and learners currently at the school, and others.

Aside from the school principal, Gavin Budd, and the head of the SA Board of Jewish Education, Rabbi Craig Kacev, the petition was also forwarded to the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Dr Warren Goldstein. It states:

“We insist that both KDVP and the South African Jewish Board of Education (“SABJE”) take immediate disciplinary action with regard to the incident that will be cited in the body of this letter.

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“Broomberg was seen on a public forum, namely Facebook, draped in a Palestinian scarf (“keffiyeh”) as well as a Palestinian flag in the form of a badge, with the caption being: “Team South Africa wearing Palestinian badges and keffiyehs to show our opposition to the human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine.”

“Broomberg currently holds the portfolio of deputy head boy at KDVP. For the sake of good record, it must be stated that a deputy head boy forms part of the executive committee of the School’s Representative Council (“SRC”).

“All members of the school’s SRC is obliged to sign a mandatory contract (“The contract”) with the school in which they are required to comply with certain school procedures as well as the ethos and heritage of the school.

“In summary, certain obligations of the contract that are pertinent to this matter are as follows:

“The respective SRC member agrees to uphold all the core Jewish values of KDVP and all the traditions that accompany it and to support the school in all its Zionistic and Judaic activities such as school prayers and chagim.

“I understand that should I bring the school into disrepute by any actions or omissions of mine and notwithstanding the usual disciplinary procedures, my student leadership appointment may be suspended or revoked.

“Further to this, and as revised in the year of 2014, according to the school’s disciplinary procedure, any student that brings the school’s name into disrepute will no longer be regarded as eligible for the Honours award (“Honours”) at KDVP.

“Being part of the SRC is both a great privilege and responsibility as stated in the above-mentioned contract, which also requires their careful consideration before undertaking the responsibilities as cited in the contract.

“As illustrated by the reaction to the above-mentioned online by community members, there is absolutely no doubt that Broomberg has brought the school of which he holds office, into disrepute.

“We therefore as a joint entity, humbly request, firstly that in accordance with the contract, Broomberg be removed from his position in office as deputy head boy and further be removed from the SRC. We secondly, humbly request, that in accordance with KDVP’s revised disciplinary procedure, Broomberg has his Honours revoked.”

Broomberg has since apologised in the form of a letter on Facebook which has been shared widely, in which he states that he had not intended to cause the uproar the picture has caused, and had not intended to “offend or upset”. He goes on to say:

“I am proud to be a South African Jew, and I am proud to attend a Jewish day school. I am also a Zionist. I believe in Israel’s right to exist, and her right to defend herself from the threat presented by those seeking to hurt her citizens. All citizens of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have the absolute right to live in peace and security. 

“It was with this in mind that I, and my team The debating team at present in Thailand), chose to take the stand we did. It was not about politics, or about states. It was about humanity. We stand with the thousands of civilians who have lost their lives in the conflict. We stand with a people who do not yet have a state to protect themselves. We stand with the innocents. We stand for two states. We do not stand against Israel. All of this applies to me personally as well. 

“While I apologise for the hurt we seem to have caused, I do not apologise for standing with Palestine on this issue. This is not because I do not believe in Israel or its people. I do believe in Israel, and I take this stand because I can love and support the state of Israel but still reject and criticise some of its actions. In fact, I consider it my duty to contribute to the growing worldwide discussion surrounding the desperate need for a quick end and lasting solution to this pernicious conflict. 

“In my eyes, this criticism is not a betrayal, but actually the only honest and true way to show my patriotism and commitment to Israel, as well as my belief in human rights and the entitlement of all citizens of all countries to those right. To improve, we must criticise. 

“I will note, explicitly, that our support and sympathy also lies with the innocent Israelis exposed to threat at the hands of terrorists. The conflict is a tragedy for all, and once again, all innocent life is equally valuable.

“We took a stand for the thousands and for those without a voice but we do not for a second condone any violence whatsoever. We stand for peace. 

“Most importantly, the issues are complex but we can never let go of the ability to talk and engage with the other side. If we lose this ability we lose our claim to be an enlightened community. We lose what it means to be human. 

“I am proud to bear the responsibility of continuing the discussion.”

The furore at KDVP comes in a context in which public petitions and statements are emanating from SA Jews from different directions in response to the Israel-Gaza conflict. Lef-wing Jews have formed an organisation called Jewish Voices for a Just Peace, which last Sunday demonstrated outside a solidarity rally for Israel – which drew some 10 000 people – slamming what it called “Israel’s war against civilians”.

And on Sunday, a new petition initiated by former head boys, head girls and leaders at King David Victory Park, called for the protection of freedom of expression, defending Josh Broomberg's right to speak out, even if some people didn't agree with his views. The petition, hosted by, which had garnered 1 029 signatories by 16:00 Sunday afternoon , said as follows:

"We, the undersigned members of the South African Jewish community, are deeply saddened by the exaggerated attacks on King David Victory Park (KDVP) Deputy-Head Boy Joshua Broomberg. Josh has been vilified for his position on the recent conflict in Israel and calls have been made for him to be removed from his position and stripped of his Honours.

"We believe that he is entitled to his views, even if we don’t agree with them. We believe that silencing people, especially young people, is not in the spirit of our community. Freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are values we treasure. We call for the attacks on Josh to stop.

"Josh is captaining South Africa at the World Schools Debating Championships in Thailand. On August 6, the Team posted a picture on Facebook with them wearing keffiyehs indicating sympathy with the civilians who have died recently in Gaza. There has been understandable surprise at seeing three young Jewish people taking such a stand. What we can’t accept is the vicious tone of some of the responses, and the desire to shut down debate on a question that concerns us all...

"We don’t need to agree with Josh’s views to respect his right to hold and express them. This is about more than just one particular person. It is about guarding against the development of a culture of victimisation and censorship. Increasingly students have felt ostracised for expressing opinions which are different within their school environment.

"We believe that all schools, including Jewish schools and our communities at large need to be safe spaces which prioritise tolerance, value debate and promote freedom of expression. The alternative is for passionate young people, of which Josh is undoubtedly one, to be alienated from the Jewish community.

"As Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein recently wrote in The Star and other papers:'To vilify or denigrate anyone who dares to express an opposing view is undemocratic, and is to desecrate the sanctity of free speech'.

"Defend freedom of expression in our Jewish community."

The spate of such petitions and statements is indicative of a growing rift in the SA Jewish community over attitudes to the Israel-Gaza situation, which is causing great unease among community members and leaders.

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  1. 37 Choni 09 Aug
    Why all the fuss over this young man.
    His sentiments and arguments are not that far removed from those of the SAJBD. I have read similar comments from Mary Kluk.
  2. 36 Sandra grey 09 Aug
    I say that Joshua Broomberg she be removed from the SRC immediately and NOT be eligible for any honours or recognition from the school or the Jewish community.
  3. 35 barry bass 10 Aug
    what a load of crap. Too late for damage control
  4. 34 Nadia da Costa 10 Aug
    Your Parents have raised you well Josh. Respect.
  5. 33 Louis de Limos 10 Aug
    Disgusting conduct by a person that younger students look up to!!!
  6. 32 Gary Selikow 10 Aug
    the Palestinian flag and the keffiyah are symbols of hate and terror and a drive for  second holocaust, Anyone wearing this is identifying with these things.
  7. 31 Kim day 10 Aug
    An example needs to be made before this becomes the norm, and that goes for the other 2 as well 
  8. 30 Gideon Hack 10 Aug

    I was most disturbed and saddened when I read about how you and the other delegates in the SA Debating Team had shown support for and aligned yourself with those who are openly trying to murder Jews and to destroy the State of Israel. But I was absolutely horrified when I read the statement that you posted on Facebook in an attempt to explain your behavior.

    For sure, I am not going to debate you about your opinions, conduct and actions in this forum, but it suffices to say that with your naïveté and arrogance, you have chosen to embrace brutal terrorists and others who enthusiastically and openly seek Israel's annihilation.   

    For Israelis, every day in this precious country is a struggle and we are facing many existential threats from our enemies. We certainly do not need you standing behind us, keen to plunge a knife into our backs. And I can only hope that your own community in South Africa deals with you appropriately and harshly, treating you as a threat to the Jewish people and a pariah.

    I am sure that your forefathers had previously looked down upon you with great love and admiration for your many achievements. But now they have turned away in repulsion at the sight of a smug young man who has shown the utmost disdain and contempt for his  history, his people and his future.
  9. 29 Harold Taback 10 Aug
    With Quisling Jews like this, who needs enemies?
    And what does it say for his parents.
  10. 28 Sara 10 Aug
    I don't buy this argument for a minute. Obviously an intellegent person, he knew the uproar that he would cause by doing this. He did not do it in his personal capacity but representing a school that he KNEW did not support his view. I think he should have his esteemed position taken away from him.
  11. 27 Stan Luntz 10 Aug
    Said it before, say it again: By all means express concern about casualties in Gaza - BUT NOT BY DONNING THE ARAFAT SCARF. 
  12. 26 Bennie Katzman 10 Aug
    The usual left wing mantra "freedom of speech " freedom of expression " and so on ad nauseam. His views are an insult to the Blessed Memory of the 3 Yeshiva students murdered by Hamas,and the 64 Isreali soldiers who died to protect him.
  13. 25 Adilah Samie 11 Aug
    Well done Josh.  #FreePalestine
  14. 24 Saliegh 11 Aug
    The world needs more jews like this young man. If his humanitarian view is in contradiction with the school ethos, I wonder who needs some self-reflection? 
  15. 23 Fazil 11 Aug
    Joz, you make the Jews the Jewish faith and Humanity proud!
  16. 22 Prof Mervyn Skuy 11 Aug
    I disagree with the content and particularly the manner of Joshua Broomberg's words and public display. However, we educators should not dictate to people WHAT to think; we can only teach them HOW.  

  17. 21 Lynne 11 Aug
    It is a most disgusting act. You are a member of a Jewish Day school and in a leadership position, you should know better how to conduct yourself.  
  18. 20 Gary Selikow 11 Aug
    What would have happened if the deputy head boy of a muslim school wore an Israeli flag 
  19. 19 Jono Franks 11 Aug
    Hi Josh. As a Jewish South African I support your stance. I too love Israel but cannot condone the killing of innocent people by anyone. Hamas are the problem not the innocent civilians.
    Cape Town
  20. 18 Nico de Jager 11 Aug
    I respect you for taking a strong stand against something that you believe is wrong.
    Right or wrong, it shows character!


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