Two Grade 9 students at the United Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, South Africa “took a knee” in solidarity with Palestinians while Hatikva was sung during an award ceremony last week, and were disciplined by the school for their protest.
“Taking a knee,” meaning to kneel on one knee during the playing of the national anthem, was adopted in 2016 by NFL football star Colin Kaepernick in protest against police brutality against African-Americans. Some Americans perceived the athlete’s protest during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner as being disrespectful to the national anthem, armed service personnel and veterans.
In a letter sent to parents of all pupils at the school, United Herzlia director of education Geoff Cohen said, “The boys’ inappropriate kneeling action demonstrated deliberate and flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school,” and publicly embarrassed United Herzlia and those who were present.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Cohen said that while the two students kneeled in protest against Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, the boys were “Zionist in essence,” but had concerns with the current government.
Asked if the school was punishing them for expressing their political stance, Cohen said that the pupils were “entitled to their opinions” and that the school “encourages debate and always encourages kids to question.”
“We encourage kids to protests and debate but not to publicly embarrass the school in front of their peers, teachers and dignitaries who were present,” said Cohen.
“We are a proudly Zionist school. 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.”
Cohen said the boys had received “consequences” for their actions, preferring the term to disciplinary measures, and said they the consequences were “highly educational and not punitive,” but would not say specifically what they were.
Founded in 1940, United Herzlia has more than 2,000 students enrolled at its 10 campuses in Cape Town ranging from day care to high school. According to its website, the school is “aligned to Orthodox Judaism and recognizes the centrality of Israel as the natural home of the Jewish People.”