Singing Israeli national anthem part of our heritage – Herzlia

2018-11-16 21:42
Herzlia Middle School is a Jewish school in Cape Town. Photo of entrance to school from Google Street View. (Public domain).

Herzlia Middle School is a Jewish school in Cape Town. Photo of entrance to school from Google Street View. (Public domain).

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Herzlia Middle School says that singing the Israeli national anthem is an expression of its connection to Jewish heritage. The school was speaking in response to public backlash after it condemned two pupils for kneeling during the anthem.

Two Grade 9 pupils knelt during the playing of the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, in solidarity with the Free Palestine movement during a prize-giving ceremony.

READ: Two Herzlia pupils facing disciplinary action for taking a knee during Israeli national anthem

The Zionist school found itself at the centre of controversy after the school's director of education Geoff Cohen sent an email to parents condemning the pupils' behaviour.

The email said that the protest was "inappropriate" and "demonstrated deliberate and flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school". Cohen added that disciplinary action would be taken against the pupils.

Cohen spoke to News24 on Friday about why the Israeli national anthem was sung at the school.

"Herzlia is a proudly Zionist Jewish school which means that it accepts and teaches that Israel is central to Jewish life," he said via email.

Protest was 'inappropriate'

"It sings the South African national anthem as well as the Haktivah because for Jewish people it is an integral part of our Jewish identity, heritage and connection to Israel."

He said that freedom of speech was valued at the school "as long as it is done in a respectful and dignified manner".

"The school provides various platforms for constructive engagement to take place and believes that a school prize-giving ceremony was inappropriate."

The school announced on Thursday that the matter had been resolved "amicably".

When asked if the two pupils were still facing disciplinary action, Cohen said: "The parents and the pupils reached a mutual agreement with the school."

Cohen said he was concerned about the public backlash as the matter was deemed internal.

Praise for pupils

"The concern for us is that an internal school matter has filtered into the public domain and this has seen a spike in antisemitism," Cohen told News24 via email.

He did not provide examples or evidence to support the claim.

The South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP) praised the pupils for their actions.

"We stand together with these two inspiring Grade 9 learners. We take a knee with them to amplify their criticism of Israel's actions and salute their action aligning themselves to current forms of principled non-violent anti-racist protest," SAJFP said in a statement.

"While we know that in the long run their principled disagreement with the unconditional defence of Israel's policies will prevail, we wish them strength and fortitude in withstanding the backlash they may face at their school, among some of their peers and from parts of the South African Jewish community."

Academic Jonathan Jansen took to social media to criticise the school, saying its actions constituted a threat to democracy.

"[It] sends the wrong message to these courageous youth and indeed to all youth in our country. Regardless of how you or I feel about the state of Israel (or any other public issue for that matter), the right to protest, the right of dissent, is fundamental to the health of a democracy."

He called on the school to reverse any disciplinary action and instead praise pupils for "acting on the courage of their convictions".

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