Learners at King David High School in Victory Park remain divided over the recent furore around a Facebook picture of their deputy head boy wearing a Palestinian scarf.
Two learners spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the atmosphere at the school as the South African Jewish Board of Education (SAJBE) took a decision last night not to take any action against Joshua Broomberg for the contentious picture.
In a statement released this morning, the SABJE which oversees King David said: “We acknowledge that the picture posted was insensitive and hurtful and was seen as such in the community. This has been a learning opportunity for the 17 year old pupil concerned and he has both explained his stance in a later posting [on Facebook] and genuinely apologized [sic] for the hurt it produced.”
“This statement … brings the matter to a close with no further action to be taken,” read the statement.
But despite this apparent end to the matter, learners at King David describe the atmosphere at their school as “one of tension”.
Wits Vuvuzela has learned that yesterday, the director of the SABJE, Rabbi Craig Kacev addressed the entire school about the matter.
“They only teach one view – to support Israel wholeheartedly and fully.”
According to one of the learners at the school, who did not want to be named, “He (Kacev) recognised that the school is apolitical, but then said that what Josh (Broomberg) did was against the school’s political views (of Zionism). He also that they (the school) support critical thinking and debate, but to be honest, they only teach one view – to support Israel wholeheartedly and fully.”
“The feeling in the school is one of tension. The kids are all divided and friends are arguing over what is going on,” said the learner.
“People are scared to say anything too “drastic” though, for fear of being ostracized and attacked.”
A second learner, who also declined to be identified, said that some learners found the criticism aimed at Broomberg “sickening”.
“I cannot and refuse to comprehend how adults, our moral responsible leaders, have openly vilified, humiliated and even threatened a 17 year old boy for expressing a view.”
Saul Musker, a Wits University student and one of people in the photograph with Broomberg, says he does not regret taking the photograph.
“It was without a doubt the right thing to do, and the community is richer for the conversation that is now being had. It’s about time that the right-wing fascism that characterises a part of the Jewish community was exposed,” he told Wits Vuvuzela today.
“Actions have consequences”
Ariela Carno, the national chairperson of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) and former head girl at the King David High School (Linksfield), said that the fact Broomberg made a statement through an image made it open to misinterpretation because of the anti-Israeli sentiment caused by the current situation in the Middle East. She also said that it was up to the school how to deal with the situation, and not up to the outside community.
“What I think Josh meant to say was that you can stand against Palestine in the sense of being against Hamas, but that does not mean you are against the people of Palestine. Unfortunately the way he said it was not sensitive to the Jewish community. It was understandable, he had very good intentions and is still young. He will learn from this,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.
“I do think the school needs to have a discussion with him though about how actions have consequences,” Carno said.
The furore around Broomberg erupted last week after the photograph was posted to Facebook showing him, Musker and another member of the South African debating team wearing Palestinian badges and keffiyehs (traditional Palestinian scarves).
An online petition, started by the group ‘Concerned Zionists’, was then circulated calling for the removal of Broomberg as the deputy head boy of King David and the revocation of his honours award.
The King David High School (Victory Park), scholar who caused controversy with his show of support for Palestinians will know Tuesday morning whether he will be stripped of his position.
Last week a picture of Joshua Broomberg, the deputy head boy of King David, was posted to Facebook showing him wearing a badge and a keffiyeh (scarf) in support of Palestinians. The picture was taken at the World Schools Debating Championship in Thailand and was accompanied by text explaining the badges and keffiyeh were to show “opposition to the human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine.”
A petition was soon circulated by an anonymous group calling itself “Concerned Zionist” demanding that Broomberg be stripped of his status as deputy head boy at the school and to lose his honours award.
The South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE), which overseas several Jewish schools including King David, told Wits Vuvuzela they were meeting on Monday evening to discuss the controversy and a decision whether to discipline Broomberg would be reached by Tuesday morning.
“The school hasn’t put out a statement yet regarding the matter,” SABJE director Rabbi Craig Kacev told Wits Vuvuzela.
“A decision is being made this evening and will be communicated latest by tomorrow [Tuesday],” he said.
By Monday evening, the online petition to remove Broomberg had reached 2 000 signatures.
According a report in The Star newspaper, Kacev believed that the initial petition had been started by outside groups, not the students of the school or their parents. He also stated that King David would not be bowing to pressure groups, and that Broomberg was a superb pupil who was entitled to return to a safe school environment.
“We are not the ‘thought’ police. Our students are encouraged to talk about and debate issues in Israel, which they do every day. This was blown out of proportion because of heightened sensitivity around the Middle East issues,” Kacev is quoted as saying. “I will be having a conversation with him [Broomberg] to discuss with him the implications of his actions.”
Another petition, this time in support of Broomberg, has since been created on avaaz.org. Intial signatories include 14 former and current head boys and girls of the school, including current Head Girl Jess Weisz, and had reached over 2 150 signatures by Monday afternoon.
“It is difficult to understand where all of this hatred comes from – but growing up in an environment where one is told every day that one is under attack, that the enemy is a monster in the dark, that ‘if we don’t stick together we are doomed’, hatred is a hard thing to escape,” wrote Witsie Saul Musker, one of the debate team members seen in the Facebook photograph, in an Op-Ed about the issue published on the Daily Maverick website today.
“At the heart of this story is a group of brave children who decided to take a stand against what they saw as a grave injustice.”
Wits Vuvuzela: Jewish top student faces criticism after show of support for Palestinians, August 2014.
FASHION STATEMENT: A screengrab of the photo posted to Facebook showing King David deputy head boy Joshua Broomberg (right) with Wits Debating Union member Saul Musker (centre) and his brother Sam (left) wearing Palestinian badges and keffiyeh (scarves) which has triggered controversy.
THE DEPUTY head boy of King David High School in Victory Park is facing a storm of criticism, and an online petition to remove him from his position, after a photo was posted to Facebook showing wearing a badge and keffiyeh (scarf) in support of Palestinians.
The photograph was taken on Wednesday at the World Schools Debating Championship being held in Thailand. Broomberg is the captain of the South African national debating team. The picture was posted by Wits Debating Union member Saul Musker who is featured in the centre of the photo.
The text accompanying the photo reads: “Team South Africa wearing Palestinian badges and Keffiyehs to show our opposition to the human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine.”
The Facebook post has triggered debate and drawn an online petition by an anonymous group calling itself “Concerned Zionist” demanding that Broomberg be stripped of his status as deputy head boy at King David and have his honours award revoked.
As of Saturday afternoon, the petition had more than 1 000 signatures.
The petition claims that Broomberg’s actions go against the contract King David Victory Park (KDVP) Student Representative Council members sign at the beginning of their leadership roles “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.”
The petition is addressed to the school’s principal, Gavin Budd, and the South African Jewish Board of Educators.
Broomberg defended himself from the criticism in a status update posted to Facebook on Friday. He said wearing the badges and keffiyeh was not a political stand but a humanitarian message of solidarity for the civilians hurt in the current violence in Gaza.
“I am proud to be a South African Jew, and I am proud to attend a Jewish Day School. I am also a Zionist,” Broomberg said in his statement.
“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.”