JOHANNESBURG – As Jewish feelings about Zionism go, what middle ground there is seems to be vacated in a time of conflict. When Gaza and Israel are warring, when people on both sides are getting killed, and Jewish families weep over sons’ coffins, a Jew is not allowed to be a lukewarm Zionist, caring about Israel but feeling betrayed by its acts and policies. If a Jew is not solidly Zionist, he takes on enemy colors. So much the worse if he dons a keffiyeh.
Josh Broomberg, deputy head prefect and debating champion at a Jewish day school in Johannesburg, donned the Palestinian scarf at a debating contest. The image went viral. Violent conflict is never a good time for inflammatory posturing or heartwarming sentiment.
The South African community, tightly knit after a 12,000 strong pro-Israel rally in the city, was rudely rent. Broomberg duly apologized. His apology, like the keffiyeh, had trademark written all over it. It borrowed the wild claims, self-contradictions and puffed-up posturing of the Jewish far Left.
“I am a Zionist... We stand with the thousands of civilians who have lost their lives in the conflict. We stand with a people who do not yet have a state to protect themselves.… We stand for two states... We stand for Palestine... We do not stand against Israel.”
The statement as a perfect model of muddled thought would make a good comprehension test for Jewish day schools. Indeed, what fitting punishment it would be for Broomberg’s “crime” to make him take the test. How sad, therefore, that instead of pulling the boy’s statement apart, many peers and elders scored an own goal by firing off vitriolic personal attacks, aimed not at Broomberg alone, but at his family and school, King David High.
The usual anti-Zionist suspects were quick to capitalize. Five hundred Jews found it in their capricious conscience to sign a letter in support of the boy. The African National Congress government that traffics in UN votes to help the cruelest regimes on earth lionized Broomberg, the Jewish hero of the moment. Even one of the Mandela clan, known for cashing in on the late icon, lent the big name to the big Jew-bash.
The ANC issued the following statement on the attacks against Broomberg: “The Constitution guarantees to every citizen freedom of religion, belief and opinion. The actions of Josh Broomberg... to symbolically support the Palestinian people by wearing a Palestinian scarf, is an embodiment of the principles that many South Africans and peoples of the world died for. The African National Congress applauds the principled stance on the injustice of the Israeli aggression against the defenseless people of Palestine.... In the interests of entrenching democracy and promoting a just world order, as a nation we must produce conscious and activist young people determined to contribute to a more humane world.”
The Jewish community waited for what punishment Jewish educators would mete out. What could they mete out that would not inflame the big Jew-bash.
We acknowledge that the picture posted was insensitive and hurtful and was seen as such in the community. This has been a learning opportunity for the 17-year-old pupil concerned and he has both explained his stance in a later posting and genuinely apologized for the hurt it produced. We appreciate his clarification to the community and he has further submitted an apology to his school for his actions. His apology has been accepted.
What the statement of the Jewish Board of Education did not say is more important than what it did. There had been an earlier incident involving Broomberg. And it concerned not another instance of freedom of speech, but the denial of it. A guest of the school was verbally “beaten up” when he told Broomberg and his fellow debaters what a fantastic job the West Bank security barrier was doing to save Israeli lives. They spoke of the wall as an act of Apartheid and showed no respect or sympathy for terror victims about whom the guest had been invited to the school to speak. Broomberg and his mates shouted the guest down, preventing him from speaking.
Who can help feeling that Jews everywhere are involved in a life or death conflict.
These are abnormal times. Existential thoughts are abroad. At a time like this even trite juvenile pranks may explode into chaos.
Steve Apfel is the author of the book Hadrian’s Echo: The Whys and Wherefores of Israel’s Critics, and a contributor to the booklet War by Other Means. His new book, Balaam in Modern Clothes: The Enemies of Zion, is due out soon.