Taking a Knee In Cape Town

I did not want to engage this story. I did not want to write about it. I certainly did not want to speak about it on my morning show and I had zero intention of tweeting about it. My initial reaction on hearing that two grade 9 boys at a Jewish Day School in Cape Town “took a knee” at a prize-giving ceremony when Hatikva was played, was to roll my eyes and to stifle a yawn.

I didn’t feel the outrage that many in the South African Jewish community felt. I didn’t feel the hurt or the betrayal that many spoke of. And I certainly couldn’t muster enough energy to understand why they felt the need to make a public display of their disapproval of Israel. My overwhelming reaction to the whole thing was pretty much “who cares?”

But it seems that pretty much everyone else did.

Truth be told, I am hardly interested in the political views of my own children. And I love them and think that they are smart. That being the case, I just can’t imagine what the circumstances would be for me to take seriously the behaviour of someone else’s’ children. Children who were born around the same time as Facebook. Children who attend an elite private school in Cape Town where suffering is understood to mean a slow internet connection. Or a windy beach day. Or God forbid, no WiFi.

It most definitely does not include an understanding of what it means to spend night after night after night in a bomb shelter and to suffer from post-traumatic stress of knowing that at any time a siren could sound allowing seconds to get to cover. And that any time your home could be destroyed. Or worse. And children whose concept of” taking action” to evidence their 14-year-old disapproval of Israel means sitting down in Cape Town with a view of the ocean (I might have made that up. There is a good chance there wasn’t a view).

There are those who claim to be proud of the tots. So brave. So principled. There are those who claim that the school should not have censured them but rather should respect them and laud their magnificence. And courage. They claim that the school should allow for debate and for conversation. And that the notion of freedom of expression needs to be preserved and not undermined.

Really? Would the same people be as supportive if the kids had to stand up in an exam room and shout the answers on the paper as an expression of concern around an antiquated testing structure? It’s freedom of expression after all. Clearly not, there is a time to debate and for dialogue and there is a time to respect the rules. Every environment function on it. Without it there would be chaos.

I have spoken on many occasions to 12th graders at Jewish Day schools across Johannesburg. The idea is to engage the school leavers with issues of anti-semitism and Israel hate that they will encounter on leaving their cocoon. In every talk, without fail, there some kids who express discomfort around an aspect of Israel. And in every circumstance, in front of teachers and school principals, the school has allowed for critical debate. Because it is appropriate and that is the environment in which that discussion should take place. Not at a prize giving ceremony and not when it brings this kind of global attention to your school.

If there is any wonder about the reaction and why I now choose to write about this, it is because whereas most South African publications ignored the hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas at Israel, when this story broke it immediately became front page news. Notorious anti-semites and Israel haters have leapt to the defence of the boys and threatened the school with investigations into their “unconstitutional” practices. When characters like SA Jews for a Free Palestine (both members), as well as MRN’s Iqbal Jassat are on your team, you have to stop to wonder.

One also has to keep in mind that the school is strongly Zionistic and no one is forced to attend. Cape Town offers magnificent alternatives.

I don’t want to know the boys’ names because they are irrelevant to me. These children are sadly the products of a society that confuses what bravery is. The children are pawns in an adult game that is comfortable using them to further their own political agenda.

For this reason and because these are only children, I believe that we should try to engage this as little as possible I believe that school should to be left to deal with their pupils and that we concern ourselves with far more important issues.

About the Author
Howard Feldman is a lawyer, a physical commodity trader by industry and a writer by obsession. He is very active in the Jewish community and passionate about our world.