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!
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.”