The ‘taking a knee’ by two students at Herzlia Middle School Cape Town during the singing of “Hatikvah” at a Grade 9 graduation ceremony has sparked controversy not only among the local Jewish community, but all over the country, even making the papers abroad.
Imitating African-American football players who protested against police brutality during US football matches, the two students explained their ‘copycat’ was to publicly profile Israel’s alleged human rights violations against the Palestinians.
What is at the core of this issue – Freedom of expression, failure of Zionist education at Jewish Day Schools, genuine concern for the Palestinians, disrespect to the State of Israel and the Jewish People, an urge for publicity? A storm has risen and is unlikely to abate anytime soon as the community grapples with the issues.
Offering a portal to people closely connected to the issue and the school to express their positions, LOTL hereunder publishes two articles, one by a former student at Herzlia School, Jonathan Zausmer, who today lives in Kochav Yair in Israel, and Dovi Goldberg, a 17-year-old student at a Jewish Day School in Johannesburg.
Perspectives from a 17 year old
By Dovi Goldberg
The events following the controversial “taking of the knee” incident at Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, has spurred a flurry of press coverage, including a discussion on Johannesburg-based radio station, 702.
I finished my exam last Thursday and got into my mother’s car. She was listening to the Eusebius Mckaiser show on 702, a Johannesburg-based radio station. The segment on the show was about “focusing on whether schools are the appropriate place for political discussion”. This intrigued me as they were speaking about the two pupils from Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town who had taken a knee during Hatikvah as solidarity with the Palestinian people and a protest against the Israeli government.
When I was in the car, Eusebius brought Josh Broomberg on the radio to speak. Josh Broomberg is a former vice head-boy of a Jewish day school in Johannesburg. Broomberg has encountered a similar reaction to these two boys as he once wore a kaffiyeh to an international debating competition. There was mass outcry from the Jewish community. For me personally, I agree with neither Broomberg nor the two Herzlia boys.
Broomberg said a couple of times on air that he was going to be very careful of what he says but ultimately Mckaiser and Broomberg share the same pride in the braveness of these two boys.
I tried calling into the show over twenty times to express my opinion on the matter -the opinion of a Jew who is a proud Zionist and knows what Hatikvah truly means.
This is what I would have said if 702 and Eusebius Mkaiser would have answered my call.
I am a 17 year old pupil at a Jewish day school in Johannesburg.
I am proud Zionist and a proud Jew, I am also a person who believes in the freedom of speech and of expression, but there is also a time and a place for that.
I understand that these pupils took a knee during ‘Hatikvah’ the national anthem of Israel. They took a knee to protest the Israeli government as they say they cannot support it morally. But I don’t think these boys fully understand what Hatikvah is about because taking a knee during Hatikvah is not only disrespecting Israel, it is also disrespectful to the six million Jews that perished during the Holocaust and to the Jews who had never given up their hope of eventually returning to Zion.
Hatikvah which in Hebrew means ‘the Hope’ was not written specifically as a national anthem.
The poem which was originally written by Naftali Herz Imber in 1877 portrays the two thousand year old hope of the Jews returning to their ancestral homeland, Israel.
It was adopted as the National anthem of the Zionist movement at the first Zionist conference in 1897
In 1944, 4 years before the establishment of the state of Israel, Czech Jews sung this song while they were beaten and marched into the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Disrespecting Hatikvah is disrespecting these people who died with the hope of Jews still having a chance to visit the holy land.
During liberation, the Jews of Bergen Belsen and Dachau concentration camps sang this song as they marched towards freedom. These Jews had lost everything, family, valuables and all necessities for daily life -but the one thing these people did not lose is their hope to return to Zion.
“As long as in the heart, within,
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the ends of the east,
an eye still gazes toward Zion”
These are the words of the opening verse of Hatikvah. A verse so powerful it sends shivers down my spine.
So I will reiterate my opinion – the freedom of speech and freedom of expression is definitely important, but as long as there is a Jewish soul, the heart will always yearn for Zion.
Be critical of Israel if you want to be, but do not ever disrespect Hatikvah.
By Jonathan Zausmer
A flurry of reactions has followed the uproar over two students from Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, South Africa, who decided to “take a knee” as an act of protest during the singing of Hatikva, the Israel national anthem.
Establishment South African Jewish leadership was horrified. Condemnation has echoed throughout the S.A. Jewish community and abroad. South African Jewry was kneecapped and is crying out in pain. I will not condemn these students as some writers have hysterically done in these pages, calling them “tots” or “pawns” or “poster boys”. Let us be clear, their act was no frivolous attempt at destruction. Protesting in this way takes courage, conviction and involves consequences of which they clearly were aware. Yet within their protest, I detect confusion.
It is that confusion we need to examine.
In brief, we are talking about something called disruption. Establishments and institutions loathe it, because the comfort zone of same-same work, same-same thinking, same-same paradigms are thrown out of balance. One needs to gasp for air, rationalize your position, understand the fast-changing world, initiate, and create a culture of change and renewal.
Let me state, that as a graduate of Herzlia School, I feel the pain, the embarrassment and the immense challenges now confronting the management and staff of this prestigious institution. I am grateful for the education I received there and deeply respect the growth and development of a unique educational process that has taken place over the years. Within the constraints of a conservative Jewish South Africa, the leadership of this school now faces a challenge. By embracing that challenge, they now have an opportunity to open up some issues that go further afield than this specific incident.
In order to see the big picture, we need to take a step back and take an overview of something that has brought home some hard truths that have been conveniently ignored by the institutions of Diaspora Jewry and now is no better time to address them. And we need to address them because the very nature of Judaism and Jewish identity has shifted during the post WWII era from isolated and vulnerable small religious communities abroad, to large secular Jewish communities that are made up of worldly, high-achievement, sophisticated people who identify with Israel and see Israel as the heart and vibrant center of modern Judaism. The values that they carry with them from generations of learning and teaching are now challenged by an Israel that, while financially vibrant, is facing challenges of discrimination within it, gross violation of human rights, uncontrolled rampant colonialist ultra-nationalism bolstered by government policy, heading to a very possible scenario of a Jewish minority ruling over a Arab Muslim majority within one state.
At the core of this disruption, unease, ethical tension and conflict of identity – at the very core, is the Netanyahu government in its various forms. At the outset of his term as Prime Minister, Netanyahu affirmed the two-state solution, albeit with many provisos, caveats and cautions. But he affirmed the concept. Yet he and his government have done everything in their power to unhinge and impede such a policy. Rampant Israeli settlement in the very area destined for Palestine is proof. Scorn for U.S. agents of peace who have encouraged this policy since advocated by President Bush back in 2003 is proof. The government of Israel laughs and scorns U.S. peace initiators from Bush, Obama, Kerry, Trump, to Jared Kushner. Vast chunks of the Israeli budget, of U.S. grants, of military spending go into owning occupied territory by means of settlement and disowning the now millions of Palestinians who live there. West Bank and Gaza GDP per capita runs at approximately USD 3,500. Israeli GDP per capita runs at approximately USD 40,000.
Establishment Jewish communities around the world, especially in environments that host ugly anti-Semitic sentiments within it, such as in South Africa, have lapsed into the mode of blindly following Israel and its government whatever the circumstances. The “insurance policy” concept of a safe space for Jews in the world rises above all ethical, legal, moral, complex matters. On the shameful acts of corruption, abuse of power and national domination of another people, there is an eerie silence. This is a consequence of being humbled by the fact that those who do not face the gun, as we do here, should remain silent. To this I say no. It is incumbent, indeed the duty of Jews worldwide to speak up, whether in New York, Paris or Cape Town, South Africa.
First appeared in ‘Times of Israel’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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