Johannesburg - The SA Board of Jewish Education distanced itself on Monday from an online petition calling for the removal of King David Victory Park's deputy head boy for wearing a keffiyeh.
The board, which runs the school, said decisions at the school or interactions with students should not be made from pressure received from an “online storm”.
“We are trying to keep ourselves above that, even though the rhetoric is harmful to the school and the students,” general director Rabbi Craig Kacev said.
“We cannot make decisions based on that.”
The school's deputy head boy, Joshua Broomberg, was tagged last week in a photo on social media platform Facebook wearing the keffiyeh, recognised as a Palestinian symbol, and Palestinian badges.
Broomberg, in Thailand for the World Schools Debating Championship, is pictured with two others wearing the same attire.
The picture's caption read: “Team South Africa wearing Palestinian badges and Keffiyehs to show our opposition to human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine. #WSDC2014”.
The online petition was launched soon thereafter, calling for Broomberg's removal as deputy head boy and as a member of the school's student representative council, since he had brought the school into “disrepute”.
By Monday afternoon, over 2000 people had signed the petition.
Kacev said: “Because of what's going on in Israel, there is heightened emotions and whatever is being said, is being used by a very diverse community.
“There are many different views, because the support for the state of Israel is one element, but political statements are another.”
Broomberg on Friday posted a statement on his Facebook page where he apologised as the picture was not intended to “create an uproar”, “offend or upset”.
However, he said he was a proud South African Jew, proud to attend a Jewish day school, and was also a Zionist.
He believed in Israel's right to exist and defend itself, while all citizens in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza had an absolute right to live in peace and security.
Broomberg said while he loved and supported the state of Israel, he still rejected and criticised some of its actions.
“In fact, I consider it my duty to contribute to the growing worldwide discussion surrounding the desperate need for a quick end and lasting solution to this pernicious conflict,” he said.
“In my eyes, this criticism is not a betrayal, but actually the only honest and true way to show my patriotism and commitment to Israel, as well as my belief in human rights and the entitlement of all citizens of all countries to those right.
“To improve, we must criticise.”
Kacev said with the picture standing alone, it left room for ambiguity and that heightened emotional response.
“The school itself welcomes debate, and the statement made by Joshua on Friday does not leave us concerned in any way,” he said.
“He acknowledges his position and all of us agree that any loss of life leaves us sad, all loss of life.”
While many had different views as to why Israel was doing what it was doing and whether Hamas was correct, that was a discussion.
“This is not a school discussion, that is not a discussion for the playground, we do not hold political views as a school,” Kacev said.
“We acknowledge as a school the centrality of the state of Israel to the Jewish people.”
He said Broomberg was expected to return next week Monday, while every effort was being made to communicate with Broomberg and his family because of the “disproportionate online response”.
“We hope to release a statement by late this (Monday) evening if not tomorrow 1/8Tuesday 3/8 morning.
“Schools are education environments and we acknowledge that teenagers stumble from time to time, but it is a learning experience, especially when expressing an opinion.”