Opinionista Dominique Herman 2 December 2018

The Herzlia row: A point of view is not propaganda

Don’t support Israel if that goes against your beliefs. Don’t sing the Israeli anthem when it’s played, by all means. But why must you create a spectacle at an important event for lots of other people who do support Israel, in an environment where the general consensus is in support of Israel?

Nice piece of Jewish propaganda. Wonder what Herzlia paid the “author”?

When you defend a Jewish institution, this is the type of criticism that gets levelled at you. One can’t possibly have anything positive to say about a Jewish school so it must be “propaganda” when one does. The person who makes the positive comments can’t possibly think them on her own; she must have been “paid” to say them.

How come in the world of Twitter there is plenty of righteous indignation when a Jewish school chooses to rebuke students for disrespecting something that is sacred to many people in their community, but there’s never a rebuke of a fellow tweeter when a comment like this is published? How is this guy accusing me of being paid to write propaganda an acceptable contribution to the debate?

As far as Saul and Samuel Musker are concerned, I don’t recall saying that my opinion trumped theirs because I went to Herzlia and they didn’t. What I did say was that they had a very definitive characterisation of what goes on at a school they never attended. I don’t speak with authority about the ethos of King David Schools in Jo’burg, or indeed any other school, as I don’t have the foggiest idea.

The point of my opinion piece was to illustrate that the action of these Grade 9 students “taking a knee” during the singing of the Israeli anthem was inappropriate. That’s the start and end of it. It makes me chuckle to read the Muskers accusing me of using “that wonderfully vague and sinister word” – appropriate – and calling it “defensiveness” when I look to defend an institution under attack by people like them defending their denigration of it.

I am not a scholar, Rhodes or otherwise, and I don’t purport to be an expert on the Israeli/Palestinian issue. I’m just someone who subscribes to good, old-fashioned values of courtesy, empathy and respect. Perhaps I’m out of touch. I might possibly have reached the age where that’s happened. After all, I don’t get the appeal of the Kardashians; I don’t understand why one wants to broadcast on the internet where one is and what one’s doing every moment of the day; and I certainly don’t get turned on by spewing vitriol at the administrators of a school I’ve had nothing to do with.

Don’t support Israel if that goes against your beliefs. Don’t sing the Israeli anthem when it’s played, by all means. But why must you create a spectacle at an important event for lots of other people who do support Israel, in an environment where the general consensus is in support of Israel? Why ruin what is a sacred experience for a lot of other people? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable concept.

And I don’t think that means I’m looking to “disguise and sanitise (my) condemnation”. I think their means of protest was ill-advised, and all I have been suggesting is that it may not have been the best way to win friends and influence people when they have other tools in their arsenal.

I also don’t think these boys should be self-flagellating, as the Muskers point out. But neither do I think a grossly disrespectful public act that seeks to desecrate something held very dear at a school they attend should go without rebuke. And writing a couple of essays and meeting with members of the community to have discussions, as disciplinary measures go, does not seem terribly arduous to me.

I’ve subsequently read somewhere that one of these boys is a debating champion. If that is the case, he should be smacking his lips in anticipation of writing and verbally expressing his views. This is his chance to say what he really thinks. Speak it, I say. Write it. This is what Jewish education was about in my day, and I hope it still is in this day.

In that vein, I don’t think it’s an accident that every editorial exploring this issue on both sides has been penned by someone schooled within this system. There is great merit in that. A lot of people come out of high school not knowing how to think. Not knowing how to ask a question or having the courage to believe in something and speak up about it. Students that come out of the Jewish day school system in South Africa tend generally not to be among them.

Herzlia is not without fault. Neither is Israel. But then neither is South Africa, Palestine, the Muskers or me. There is, however, and I don’t know who could genuinely dispute this, a disproportionate focus on Israel’s faults. In Cape Town, I’d be intrigued to see even one protest against another country for its wrongdoings — any country — for every five that are organised against Israel. There are some pretty awful things happening around the globe. There’s a lotta injustice to choose from. Why is Israel (and Jews) always held to a higher standard of account?

This is not “paranoia” talking. We need just look to the recently released CNN survey to see the bone-chilling consensus of people in Europe on how they feel about Jews. The outlook is not that different in SA.

I didn’t claim, as the Muskers said I did, that anti-Semitism is caused by criticism or debate within the Jewish community. But it ain’t helping when individuals look to weaken the institution from within.

It’s a funny thing, and I’m realising this more as I get older. What you once resented and took for granted, often in retrospect you begin to value. It applies to romantic partners, it applies to jobs. And it applies to one’s schooling.

Perhaps Herzlia does need to take a bit of a revised look at what it teaches regarding geopolitics in the Middle East. Perhaps, simultaneously, other schools could be equally magnanimous in their curriculums? Perhaps the same amount of coverage dedicated to an incident that seeks to cast Herzlia in a poor light could be dedicated to coverage that casts it in a positive light?

There is a lot that’s positive there. People may not believe me when I say that, but it’s true. Really, I swear, pinky promise. DM

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