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 WW2 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 full speed towards a neo-apartheid cliff: 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 initiatiors 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 actually 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.
It is time to speak up, to step up to the plate and address the core issues of Israel’s current government policies and to make a stand, loud and clear that the ultra-nationalist, messianic venture into eternal domination of another people is not acceptable and it is time for change. It is time to speak up against the erosion of democracy in the Jewish State. Do not let the Pied Piper of Balfour Street drive an entire people over the cliff and into the depths of an apartheid reality from which there is no return.