When two Jewish students at Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, South Africa, decided to “take a knee” during the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli National anthem, at a prize-giving event, they probably felt a sense of pride in what they were doing.
They probably felt a sense of self-righteousness too.
Maybe they saw themselves as heroes for social justice.
Unfortunately, that self-righteous, smug and arrogant attitude clouded what they really should have felt — which is a sense of shame.
They embarrassed their school. They embarrassed their community. They embarrassed the Jews of South Africa. And quite frankly they embarrassed the entire Jewish people themselves.
That’s not to say that people can’t have different views and dialogue is always an important avenue, but what they did went beyond a different view on the world.
Of course they will tell you, as I’ve heard myself, that their reasons for doing so was because they don’t support what the Israeli government is doing and they will tell you that Herzlia tacitly restricts the information they give students. And they will also tell you about the supposed ‘huge divide’ in the Jewish community about whether you are “pro-Palestine” or “pro-Israel.”
But what they won’t tell you is the deliberate, cynical and malicious way in which they expressed their views. Because they decided on their final Grade 9 farewell night of their Jewish school, a school that values Zionism and a love for Judaism and for Israel, to humiliate those values by openly and publicly disrespecting the very ethos of what that school stands for.
And why would they even be at a Jewish school such as Herzlia if they’re against its very principles?
I know this, because I am also a Jew from South Africa and I was also fortunate to be at that very same school many years ago, where passing through the gates under the Herzlia school insignia, with its blue Magen David proudly on display, would always give me a sense of pride.
While they spoke of “conversations” and “understanding the other,” Jewish kids their age and much younger were hiding in bomb shelters while the “other” launched 500 rockets against them — each one designed and intended to kill, to hurt and to destroy.
While they spoke of “huge divides” in the Jewish community, that community is currently under siege by a government that is openly hostile against the State of Israel. A government that has endorsed antisemitism through the BDS. A government that has fanned the flames of hatred to the point that if anyone openly supports a pro-Israel position, they will be subject to intimidation, both verbal and violent.
Jews in South Africa feel less secure today than they’ve ever felt before, surrounded by a hostile government and an increasingly hostile environment.
In a time where anti-Semitism is rampant in the world right now, these boys did not work for their people, but against them. They may not think it, but their actions will be used by the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people as a sign of a people who don’t believe in their own destiny. They will become the poster boys of Jews against the State of Israel.
They didn’t help their people that day. They harmed them.
Now, they may continue to think they are Jewish heroes, but they are the very opposite of what Jewish heroes are.
Jewish heroes stand up for their people in the face of adversity.
Jewish heroes stand up for their homeland in the face of attacks.
And Jewish heroes stand tall — they do not bend their knees.