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(Jeff Haynes / Agence France Presse)

South African Jewish students hounded after expressing solidarity with Gaza

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Facebook photo shows the Musker brothers and Joshua Broomberg at the debating championships in Thailand, wearing keffiyehs. (Facebook)

The deputy class president of King David Victory Park, a prominent Jewish community school in Johannesburg, is one of three young men targeted with vitriolic abuse after being pictured wearing keffiyehs (traditional checkered scarves) “to show opposition to the human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine.”

The photograph was taken when Joshua Broomberg and Wits University students Saul and Sam Musker — who are also Jewish — were in Thailand competing in the World Debating Championships.

But when the image was shared widely on social media, the three youths were met with hate messages, including the statement that “These boys should be killed like the children in Sderot [a town in present-day Israel, north of Gaza], they don’t deserve to breathe!”

Another abusive message read:

“To this [sic] fucking retards that support the Palestinians … Me … Poczynski born in Argentina and Soldier at The IDF [Israeli army] i hope that these people does’t [sic] ever come to my country [Israel] because i will shoot them with my M16 and empty all my bullet [sic] on them!”

An opinion piece written by Saul Musker cited other messages received by the boys, including this one (misspellings in original):

you guys think that you are super bright wise kids and talking shit will win any argumant in the world . I CHALANGE YOU WISE ASS BRATS TO COME LIVE ON KIBBUTZ on the gaza border, its a free holiday, it wont cost you anything and when you have 15 seconds to get shelter i want you to stand up and convinse the enemy that you believe in humanatarian rights and in your opinion it goes against what you believe in. and before you shit yourselves and cry for mommy see how far that argumant is going to get you. A DISGRASE TO OUR BOYS puting their lives on the line to protect us!

“Abhorrent racism”

The issue has divided opinion in South Africa’s Jewish community. A fellow pupil at King David’s, who asked not to be named for security reasons, emailed The Electronic Intifada to raise concerns that his community’s response “has been nothing short of abhorrent racism and victimization towards [Broomberg]. There are calls to have him expelled, stripped of all his achievements and excommunicated from the Jewish community. This is sickening as this is all owing to the simple fact of speaking out against the Zionist machine that continuously disregards human rights and the value of human life in Gaza.”

A petition defending Broomberg’s actions and calling for “safe space” for debate in the South African Jewish community has been publicized, with the opening signatories representing many of the same school’s leading pupils from recent years. This had attracted more than 2,000 signatures by the afternoon of 11 August, South African time.

A second petition in support of Broomberg was also said to have drawn thousand of signatories.

The Musker brothers and Broomberg’s actions have also been praised by Wits University’s Assistant Dean of Humanities, David Hornsby, who said on Twitter: “Proud of your principled stand …  despite the clear risk posed to your position within the KD [King David] community. Keep up the good work!”

However, a third petition addressed to King David’s schools and the South African Board of Jewish Education by a person calling themselves “Concerned Zionist” called for Broomberg to be removed from the school and his honors revoked.

The statement went on to claim that there was “absolutely no doubt that Broomberg has brought the school of which he holds office into disrepute.”

A statement made by the three boys and quoted in Musker’s own article challenged their attackers, saying that:

Debating is about engaging with the world around us, teaching critical thinking and the value of meaningful discourse and expression. Debaters are called upon to speak out when others won’t, and to uphold the principles that they support. For this reason, we value real argument and debate. In addition we recognize that different views exist and have legitimate reasoning behind them. We welcome and encourage all to express those opinions. However, bullying, anger, intimidation, threats and hostility stifle and shut down meaningful discourse. We urge everyone to recognise that different opinions will always exist, and to behave in a way that makes space for those opinions without making anyone feel scared, victimised or undermined.

And Rabbi Craig Kacev, the addressee of the petition against Broomberg and head of the South African Board of Jewish Education, seemed to be rejecting the calls for Broomberg to be removed.

Quoted in the South African Times, he was said to have insisted that King David Schools “supported Israel’s right to exist,” but that “teachers didn’t operate as the thought police and suppress debate.” He was said to have supported the role of debate in education, and emphasized that the school and its board did not “support a call for mock justice.”

Comments

Are all Israelis insanely undemocratic, rejecting the freedom of speech....or is that just the Zionists...?

To reply to your question, no, not all Israelis are like the neo fascist "Zionist" who you have been exposed to. Many Israelis are fighting tooth and nail for peace but are ignored by the current government of Israel as well as a global Jewish community which is struggling with denial about the situation in Israel. Please look at the organization "breaking the silence" as well as "Jewish voice for peace" and "peace now" for more information about the conflict and Jews and Israelis who are working with Palestinians for peace.

I see you are using your freedom of speech to further hate speech. I am disappointed that EI has posted your comment but I see that is the current trend on these forums.

I am sorry, but I fail to see any 'hate speak' in the comment above.. though plenty, it has to be said, in the response to the actions of these brave students.

I. Am not an expert but I would like to share a perspective I am sensing from my experiences! Only recently have I been informed about what Zionist consists of but, of course , I have known Jewish people all my life! Now, I am thinking, although Zionist claim to be same as Jewish, I can't see that! These students are doing the right thing, acting with rational moral standards like the way traditional Jewish people act! Jews, have tradition rooted in morality and ethics and (what clinched it 4me) always strictly observe the Sabbath! Zionist, it seems are suffering from trauma and paranoia and I'm afraid have really lost it!!

Brave men, I salute you! Those who are willing to lose their Jobs, careers, friends.... for solidarity with Palestine, I Salute you!

Hi Sarah

Thanks for your article.

Just for SME context, how's this for harmony in SA?

Our petition was an idea created by myself, a Muslim South African, and Rob Hutchinson

Hi Sarah

The one petition on change.org opposing punitive action against Josh was an idea that I, a Muslim man came up with, and it was put into action by a friend, who's a white Christian man, in defence of a young Jewish lad. At last count we had over 2000 signatures.

Where else but in SA could this harmony come from?

You ask where else could this sort of inter-faith action take place. Last Saturday, in Palmerston North, New Zealand I took part in a protest calling for a stop to the violence in Palestine. While the majority came from the city's Palestinian and Muslim communities there were also Christians like myself. The city's member of parliament spoke after the speech.
While we have a long way to go in producing a safe environment for our racial minorities and our Maaori brothers and sisters there are many here working to bring this about. We draw inspiration from people like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela who have fought long and non-violently for racial equity. Blessings to all you here in the rainbow nation.

stand tall for following your humanity

They have the right to express their opinion. Give them their rights back! Shame on Zionists!

Broomberg reminds me of Charlie from the film "Scent of a Woman" - only his principle means a lot more, and his stand pits him against a far tougher opposition. If the "KD community" in South Africa has any sense and any plans for long-term dignity, it will treasure this young man and others like him.

ISRAEL'S UTOPIAN PIPE DREAM BY PETER COHEN

The colonization process has continued to expand since 1948, and Israel’s laws make it clear that the Palestinians are not only militarily incapacitated but have also been stripped of all their legal rights. Palestinian opposition to Israel’s policy of “ever-expanding occupation” is exploited to serve as further justification for prolonging this policy. In the tiny, unlivable and socio-economically devastated part of Palestine that now remains, people are enclosed in a territory under despotic and often lethal military administration, hemmed in by walls, fortified settlements, and road blocks. It astonishes me that many people continue to believe, in spite of all this, that the Zionists will “make peace” with the original inhabitants. Under the banner of this utopian pipe dream, all Israel had to do, to become what it is today, was to endlessly postpone this phantom “peace.” Israel has become so large and powerful that people now dare to say out loud what used to be clear only to its strongest critics: the colonists seek to rid the whole of Palestine of Palestinians, thereby fulfilling the ideological — and racist — essence of Zionism.10,11

The so-called “one -state solution” is also based on a utopian vision, in which the impoverished Palestinians will acquire, by some miraculous means, the same rights as the colonists. How anyone can believe in the one-state solution is incomprehensible to me. No colonial power has ever relinquished its domination without a massive struggle. Could such a struggle succeed in Palestine? Could the Palestinians ever acquire enough people, weapons and allies to make this a realistic possibility? Of course not. The one-state solution is a deluded fantasy.

What is astonishing for me is the complete dishonesty of those supporting the Israeli crimes toward the Palestinians.

United Nations resolution 3013 from 1973 states: “The struggles of peoples under colonial and alien domination and racist regimes for the implementation of their rights to self-determination and independence is legitimate and in full accordance with the principles of international law.”

Which part of this does not apply to the people of Palestine?

Actually that is resolution 3103 not 3013 and by what standard is Israel a "colonial" regime? The state of Israel has been recognized by the UN and even by the PA, so unfortunately you are traveling down the wrong path with your argument. The UN has already reaffirmed that Israel has a right to exist and is not a 'colonial venture' as some critics like to say.

Thank you for correcting my typo.

However I was not focusing on the Israeli regime, I was more referring to the 'alien domination' that the Palestinian people are undoubtedly suffering. I at no point suggested that Israel is not recognised as a state or that it does not have the right to exist.

I was pointing out that the Palestinian people's struggle against alien domination and perhaps even a racist regime is legitimate and in full accordance with the principles of international law.

By the way, to be clear, I am not at all anti-Jew or anti any one else for that matter. Racism and bigotry are awful traits and should be spoken out against.

But Palestine is a special case, because it was colonized far later than these other examples — it was colonized, in fact, during a period of general decolonization. It became a colonial state in a postwar period in which the UN had been founded precisely to halt colonialism and illegal conquests! It is one of the later, dramatic convulsions of Western conquest colonialism. It is time to call a spade a spade: Israel, as a colony, is a constant source of violence and conflict. It is not an ex-colony, nor is it an accepted part of the world for many. It is a territory in the Middle East under Western occupation, which possesses no political legitimacy now, nor can it ever acquire such legitimacy in the future because it has no raison d’être and cannot create one.

If it wasn't for the USA support the Zionist drama would not have come true and grow for such a long time. The American condition for the people of palestine to have a country in the world & the UN, must be by negotiation and approval of israel. How could that be. Will israel and Zionism ever approve of a palestinian state while they are going after land and settlement expansion on occupied territory against international law with the full consent and aid from the Americans. Law must be the law for all not selective.

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