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The Jewish Report Editorial

A small protest that brought out the worst in us

  • Peta low
Two Herzlia Grade 9 boys went down on one knee in front of their parents and their school during the Israeli national anthem at their annual prize giving. They were clearly protesting the government of the state of Israel. Those are the facts.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Nov 22, 2018

What happened after this totally belies belief, and brought out the worst in our community, some of whom said horrendous things, including making ugly threats.

Some, determined to shame the boys on social media, even named them, while the school was trying to avoid this. People demanded that the school expel these boys, and teach them a “real lesson”. The boys were called traitors, BDS-poster boys, even anti-Semites.

Others called the school weak, an insult to education, and so the name-calling progressed. And that was just from our own community.

As Jew was at Jew’s throat, the mainstream media was having a field day, turning this into something it certainly was not. It created a story about a school that was oppressing young boys who dared to voice their disapproval of a “pariah nation”. The whole thing is ridiculous, unfair, and untrue.

These are boys – yes, boys – of no more than 15. They are impressionable, very bright, and very eager to make a statement about their pro-Palestinian views at an unashamedly Zionist school.

This is not the first time they have aired their views at the school. They have been known to challenge the school, even visiting speakers on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

These are strong-willed and determined youngsters, and as much as they wanted to cause a scene, I do not believe they had an inkling that it would cause what has become an international furore. Even Jewish ANC veteran and anti-Israel activist, Ronnie Kasrils, put pen to paper in support of the boys and against Herzlia, and BDS-supporters did so too. As we put this newspaper to bed on Wednesday night, Kasrils was discussing this with an equally one-sided journalist on national television.

Did Herzlia actually do anything wrong, or is it just trying to give its children a good education? Did it make mistakes? I believe it is doing the best it can under fire. Is it an excellent school? Absolutely! Is it a Zionist-based school? Absolutely!

Should its pupils be allowed to question? Yes! Should they publically embarrass the school? No! However, is taking the knee at a prize giving in the presence of parents embarrassing the school publicly? It may not have been when it happened.

However, this all happened after a week in which Hamas fired 460 rockets at Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire, which caused a fair amount of consternation in the Jewish state.

The South African media virtually ignored the mini-war in the Middle East, which irked the community no end. Unsurprisingly! Then, the national media picked up the school story, which in reality was an in-community issue, and certainly was not national news material.

But the two school boys taking the knee at their prize giving turned into a huge story, and as it grew in the media, so the community got angrier and angrier on social media.

Whether or not the boys did anything wrong, nothing they did deserves to cause this crisis.

People are talking about taking their children out of Herzlia if the school doesn’t expel these boys. Seriously! Is this not overreacting?

This is the same school that has given their children an excellent education to date, and hasn’t changed an iota. Where are you going to take them that they can still get the kind of Jewish education you want them to have?

I feel for the leadership of Herzlia. It soon became very obvious that they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. That is quite simply because there are two sides within the community now, and they are both rabid.

We have all overreacted! We have taken this too far!

However, this is a Jewish communal issue. It impacts on all of us. We really need to discuss at exactly what point questioning Israel is taking it too far? Is it acceptable to question Israel, or should we blindly support whatever Israel does?

We certainly didn’t blindly support the South African government. In fact, our chief rabbi led us in protesting the rule of former President Jacob Zuma. Israelis certainly don’t blindly follow the Israeli government. In fact, there are so many political opinions there, it is hard to find two people who agree.

So, how much can we question what the Israeli government does, and still remain within the confines of South African Zionism? Is it okay to disagree with something the Israeli government does, or does that make us anti-Zionist?

These are questions we need to address as a community. This incident has highlighted the fact that we are extremely emotional about Israel, and have very strong, but differing views. We need to thrash that out between us, and find a way of doing this in a discursive, not destructive and ugly manner.

Is it a national story? I don’t believe so. These children were not abused. They were not shut down. They were not expelled, nor were they harassed at school.

Herzlia was upset with their behaviour because it shone a potentially negative light on the school. I don’t blame it for being upset, because it didn’t do Herzlia any favours. Nobody wants the school they love, and the reputation they work so hard at building, to be taken in a bad light.

So, what do we do now?

We back off Herzlia, and let it get on with teaching children, something it does extremely well. We bring in experts to work with the schools to give them the bigger picture of what goes on in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Even after that, it is possible that not every scholar or his parent is going to agree with how the Israeli government deals with the situation. Do we then ostracise them because they have different views? Or do we agree to differ – as long as they respect our right to hold our views? I would hope that we are big enough to follow the latter path.

We Jews have enough enemies. We don’t need to make enemies of our own people because they disagree with our views. Look around you, we all differ in some of our opinions.

Let’s rather live and let live, and work together against our real enemies, not our brothers and sisters with different views.

Before I sign off, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the SA Jewish Board of Deputies for inviting the SA Jewish Report to go with it to meet the minister of state security, who we wrote about last week. It is by virtue of the board’s ongoing relationship with the minister that we had this access.

Shabbat Shalom!

3 Comments

  1. 3 Syd Kaye 22 Nov
    I agree with you that the response from parents was shameful and built up a non event ( if very rude and bad mannered).
    However, You are rather naive if you think Kasrils and BDS were "supporting the boys". They were just using them as an excuse to kick Israel. 
  2. 2 Bev Goldman 22 Nov
    Excellently expressed, Peta - really good.
  3. 1 Selwyn Levin 22 Nov
    Sorry Peta!  Your report reads like a nice justification of a sitution gone wrong. What these boys did was an ambush, in a place where ANY self respecting pupil of Herzlia would not normally behave.  if these boys are all that agrieved, let them finnish school then go to Israel, join the army  and learn a bit of reality.
    Sorry Peta!  Their behaviour was totally wrong!!!

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