by Roxanne Joseph | Aug 16, 2014 | News
A pupil at King David Linksfield was called “foolish” and “dangerous” for his views on Israel by his principal in the school newsletter, late last year.
The pupil had been active on the Facebook group, KD Confessions, which allows for students to express their opinions anonymously. He posted a comment that criticised Israeli policy which he says “was taken out of context”. The student, who had been elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC), was not allowed to take up his position as a result of the furore.
He and his family have told Wits Vuvuzela they have taken their complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission and are asking for an apology and for the school to abide by the Constitution.
This comes during a time when freedom of expression in the South African Jewish community has come under scrutiny, after a petition was started to remove another King David school pupil, Joshua Broomberg, as deputy head of the school’s branch in Victory Park. Broomberg had appeared on Facebook wearing a Palestinian badge and keffiyeh (scarf) in protest of “human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine”.
The Linksfield student’s story began last year, when he was told by the school principal, Marc Falconer, he would not be allowed to take an official role as a student leader after being elected onto the SRC “because of my political views,” he said.
“I was challenged over what I said online, I said I don’t like the term ‘I hate Israel’ and the school took that as what I believe,” the student said.
“I love Israel, I consider myself a firm lover and supporter of Israel.”
The student quickly became a victim of “vicious bullying” by a teacher at the school, who the student’s father said threatened and intimidated him. His parents were informed by Falconer that he could no longer protect the student at school, according to the student’s father.
Student “named and shamed” by principal at school assembly
Falconer told Wits Vuvuzela that the issue with the student’s comments were that they were on a public forum like Facebook. He said the post by the student was “contentious.”
“My concern was not a political one, it was an educational one. Any criticism and debate needs to be educationally sound, considered and constructive,” he said.
In a newsletter to the school community, he explained that a Grade 12 pupil’s leadership role would be deferred as he had engaged “in a debate which was neither appropriate in terms of the forum nor bring anything complimentary” for the school.
He said the student was “acting in a dangerous manner.”
“It’s affected me in that my community school is violating the right to freedom of speech- myself and others.”
But the student said that his fellow King David Linksfield students knew his views when they voted for him as a student representative.
Later, during an announcement at at a school assembly, the student was again singled out for his views by Falconer, this time by name.
“But the students knew my views, they voted me in as a representative,” the student said. They then made the same announcement in assembly, but this time named him, which Falconer said in retrospect, may not have been what he (the student) had expected and was prepared to apologise for this.
The student’s father told Wits Vuvuzela that Falconer had “named and shamed” his child.
Falconer defended the school’s climate and said it allowed for free debate. However, “we teach a centrality of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, but this is apolitical.”
Falconer said he was open to criticism of Israel and but that the criticism should be constructive and educational.
Not an isolated event
The student told Wits Vuvuzela that last year his marks started to drop due to the bullying, but it has affected him less this year. “It’s affected me in that my community school is violating the right to freedom of speech- myself and others.”
The father said he was standing by his son and said this instance of bullying over political views was not isolated. Not being able to express their views at school and instead turning to a Facebook group to do so is resulting in “children being forced out of the King David School due to their views.”
“There have been numerous incidents of victimisation and censorship in the King David school system,’ he said.
“The school is not a place to use our children as political pawns,” he said.
“It is about education and learning.”
by Robyn Kirk | Aug 15, 2014 | News
KING DAVID schools are suffering from a “pattern of intolerance” despite having made the right decision not to discipline its deputy head boy for his support of Palestinians, and expert and alumnus said.
King David in Victory Park deputy head boy Joshua Broomberg triggered controversy when a picture of him wearing a keffiyah and Palestinian badge was posted to Facebook. A petition was soon circulated demanding that he be stripped of his position.
The SA Board of Jewish Education, which oversees King David, refused to do so after Broomberg made an apology to the school.
However, Eye Witness News on Thursday reported that a second King David pupil, this time at the Linksfield branch, was bullied and victimised over his views on Gaza. The family of the matric pupil, who wishes to remain anonymous, has laid a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission.
Jane Duncan, a professor in the department of journalism, film and television at the University of Johannesburg, applauded the decision not to discipline Broomberg.
However, Duncan, who was a pupil at King David, said that tolerance for freedom of expression at King David was not trickling down to the schools as a whole.
“If this is the climate we are seeing at school level, where people are supposed to be learning how to embrace ideas, then we have got a serious problem.”
“Intolerance is still happening,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. “If this is the climate we are seeing at school level, where people are supposed to be learning how to embrace ideas, then we have got a serious problem.”
“I think the leaders of the schools, the South African Board of Jewish Education, need to take responsibility for what is happening on the ground in their schools. They can’t say that they promote tolerance if that tolerance isn’t filtering down,” she said.
Duncan said she recalled students being victimised for their beliefs when she was a student 30 years ago.
“I remember classmates being beaten up in the playground because of their beliefs. So the events that are happening currently are not new, and there seems to be a pattern of intolerance at the schools,” Duncan said.
Although the South African Board of Jewish Education decided on Monday night not to take action against Broomberg for the social media post, the matter has raised the issue of freedom of expression, particularly on social media platforms.
Social media as a platform
Duncan Wild, a senior associate at Johannesburg law firm Webber Wentzel, said social media is a good thing for freedom of expression because it gives normal people access to a wider audience than would otherwise be possible.
“The downside to this is that if you say something controversial there could be a huge backlash,” he said.
“What you post may be aimed at a few people, but could potentially be shared all across the world.”
Wild cautioned that people need to be aware that they have no control over how far posts on social media can go, particularly in the case of Twitter. “Saying anything on there is like pputtion it up on a billboard,” he said.
by Robyn Kirk | Aug 12, 2014 | News
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.
by Robyn Kirk | Aug 11, 2014 | News
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.
by Robyn Kirk | Aug 9, 2014 | News
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.”