Two students from the United Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, South Africa sparked nation-wide criticism after they "took a knee" while "Hatikvah" national anthem was sung, in protest of Israel's policy towards the Palestinians.
The incident, which was reported in South Africa's media outlets, sparked controversy not only among the local Jewish community, but all over the country as well.
The two students kneeled in protest of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and what they deem as Israel's human rights violations. The "taking a knee” protest was inspired by African-American football players who protested against police brutality during US football matches.
Following the incident, local media quoted a letter sent by the school's management stating that "the boys’ inappropriate kneeling action demonstrated deliberate and flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school."
"We encourage kids to protests and debate but the forum that they chose to protest in our opinion was embarrassing for us and for many people there. There are many forums within the school to express opinions and points of view, but this was not the right one," the school's management added.
"Our students must understand that there are consequences for crossing the line. We have informed the parents of the steps we are going take and we urge everyone to move on," they stressed.
One of student recorded an audio clip in which he explains his decision to take a knee when Israel's national anthem was sung: "we cannot sing Hatikvah when we don't approve of Israel's policy. It is a beautiful song, but it is also Israel's national anthem…you support Israel by singing its national anthem. They forced us to sing it, and we didn't want that. The school claims they believe in freedom of speech, but in practice, they only let us express favorable opinions towards Israel.
"I hope that our protest will show other students that there is another side, and that pro-Palestinians are not 'terrorists' but students just like us. There is a huge debate about politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the local Jewish community...I hope that we started a conversation," he said.
United Herzlia Director of Education Geoff Cohen told a local newspaper that "the boys were Zionists in essence, but had concerns with the current government." In order to protect his student's privacy, Cohen refused to elaborate on the disciplinary measures taken by the school.
The boys were criticized among the local Jewish community, but also received a great deal of praise.
A parent of another student told local news that "we should be proud of the students and the courage they demonstrated in the face of a system that doesn't encourage freedom of speech."
On the other hand, many social media users posted angry messages about the incident while using offensive language, and calling for the removal of the students from the school premises.
Former South African minister Roni Kasrilis supported the youth's protest. "Israel violates human rights and international laws— these are things students could not ignore," he said, adding that "young Jews, not only in the United States but also in South Africa, are learning the truth and refuse to be part of this brainwash."
Similar calls were voiced by pro-Palestinian organizations. For example, one social media post states that "a new generation of Jews is changing local communities around the world, demanding freedom and respect for the Palestinians people. Jewish institutions now have a choice —should they support this new generation's calling or simply ignore it?"