Johannesburg - Josh Broomberg is safe for now. The deputy head boy of King David Victory Park will not be demoted or be stripped of his academic honours - despite sparking an outrage in the local Jewish community by standing up for the Palestinian people.
Last week he posted a picture of himself and two members of the national schools debating team wearing Palestinian scarves, alongside the caption: “Team South Africa… show our opposition to the human rights violations being carried out against the people of Palestine.”
The team is in Bangkok taking part in the world schools debating championship.
More than 2 000 people signed an online petition over the weekend, addressed to Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and the head of the SA Board of Jewish Education, Rabbi Craig Kacev, demanding that Broomberg be severely punished for bringing the school into disrepute.
On Monday morning Kacev told The Star that King David would not be bowing to pressure groups.
“We are not the ‘thought’ police. Our students are encouraged to talk about and debate issues in Israel, which they do every day. This was blown out of proportion because of heightened sensitivity around the Middle East issues,” he said.
Kacev said he believed it was outside groups, not the school students or their parents, that had started the petition. “Our students are used to debating this openly. Yes, the school is committed to the idea of the centrality of the state of Israel as a priority, and politics follows as a secondary issue,” he said.
Broomberg, he said, was a superb pupil who was entitled to return to a safe school environment.
“However, I will be having a conversation with him to discuss with him the implications of his actions.”
Broomberg has since apologised on Facebook: “Firstly, I would like to apologise. It was not intended to create the uproar it has… or offend or upset… It was not about politics. It was about humanity. We stand with the thousands of civilians who have lost their lives in the conflict.”
In another move, 500 South African Jews - among them anti-apartheid veterans, authors, musicians, doctors, judges and lawyers - have added their voice to the growing anger against Israel’s military assault on Gaza.
On Sunday, in a half-page advertisement in the Sunday Times, they said they were “appalled and devastated” by Israel’s assault on Gaza and called on like-minded people of the community to sign an online petition against the aggression. They also distanced themselves from several local Jewish organisations, accusing them of having “blind support for Israel’s disproportionate actions”.
Prominent Jews who signed the petition include former MP Ben Turok, authors Mark Gevisser, Maureen Isaacson and Antony Altbeker, musician David Kramer and high court judge Dennis Davis.
They called for a permanent ceasefire in the region that has so far claimed the lives of more than 1 800 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
The petition will be handed over to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk and Avrom Krengel, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.
Some signatories had asked to remain anonymous out of concern that they may face intimidation.
“We are proudly Jewish. We know that every human being is invested with inherent dignity, every life equal.
“Just as we resist anti-Semitism, we refuse to dehumanise Palestinians in order to make their deaths lighter on our collective conscience. We sign this statement in order to affirm their humanity and our own.
“Beyond that we believe that the way forward must involve Israel lifting the blockade of Gaza, ending the occupation of the West Bank and fully complying with international law.
“Attacks on Israeli civilians and rockets fired into Israeli towns must stop; these are illegal, counterproductive and wrong,” it said.