Why We Acknowledge The Students Who Refused To Stand For Israel’s National Anthem

Last week, two students at the Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town refused to stand for the Israeli national anthem during a graduation ceremony for grade nine learners. The two students decided to kneel or “take-a-knee” in protest against Israel’s current actions against the Palestinians. According to reports from Ground Up, the two unnamed scholars now face a disciplinary action for their decision.

Director of Education of the school Geoff Cohen said in a letter to parents that “kneeling during the schools formal and prestigious event” was “inappropriate” and “demonstrated deliberate and flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school”. He described the students’ actions as “blatant flouting of the School Rules, Herzlia’s Zionist values and the values of Herzlia’s Menschlichkeit [humanity] pillar”.

Here’s why we acknowledge their bravery:

The protest was thoughtful and effective

Well, we’re talking about it now so it certainly opened up room for conversation and debate. These students decided that they did not want to be forced to stand for an anthem of a country whose “current actions” went against their principles. This is according to a voice note that is circulating where one of the students explained why they had knelt. This past week, occupied Palestinian territory Gaza has experienced the worst-ever violence since the 2014 war. On Tuesday an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was called. “We felt like standing there is a sign of support for the Israeli anthem. Because of our beliefs that we don’t support what Israel is currently doing, we can’t just stand there,” the student said. He said they felt if they stood for Hatikva, they weren’t just standing for the anthem but for what Israel is doing at the moment.”

It’s certainly a brave gesture and will be heard all the way from Cape Town to Gaza.

The students are challenging myths

To stand up against your own can be a very difficult thing. If this is a Jewish school tied to a Zionist agenda, then these are brave scholars who are reading, thinking and taking action. Palestinian solidarity comes in all shapes and sizes in South Africa. To see a Jewish youth coming forward and challenging the brainwashing gives us hope and belief that another world is possible. In the voice note, the student says there is a huge problem with the restriction of information at his school and only learning a pro-Israel side of the conflict – he hopes that through his friend’s and his actions when people think of pro-Palestinian views they think of them, and not some unknown “other”.

[Foreign] National anthems have no place in our schools

Forcing the South African national anthem on to scholars is problematic enough. But if this school is pushing the Israeli national anthem on to their scholars, it’s worth finding out why they are doing so. If Israel is funding the school or offering support, that’s nice of them, but we’d prefer that they’d take a hike. This is an settler-colonial state bringing in their seals and symbols of oppression and brainwashing a new generation of kids. The Jewish Board of Deputies is enough, thank you. We don’t need a youth league.

Featured image via Google street view