United Herzlia School (UHS) in Cape Town says it has taken action following a kneeling protest that was undertaken by two of its pupils last week.
“The school leadership took action to investigate the matter by engaging with the two pupils and their parents and resolved the issue amicably. We have listened to all our stakeholders and most importantly our pupils. [We are] committed to moving forward with ongoing support to all parties,” the school said on Thursday.
UHS became embroiled in controversy after the pupils knelt in protest during the playing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, during a ceremony last Thursday.
The event was a graduation ceremony for Grade 9 pupils. The two Grade 9 pupils “took a knee” when a vocal ensemble began to sing Hatikvah.
Following the ceremony and the protest the school’s director of education, Geoff Cohen, emailed parents saying the protest was “inappropriate” and “demonstrated deliberate and flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school”.
The school has since backtracked on Cohen’s email, saying it “would like to stress that UHS emphasises respect and dignity for all”.
“UHS is an academic institution that strives to develop critical thinking as part of its educational offering.”
‘Free speech must be constructive’
The school said that South Africa has a progressive Constitution that allows for people to express their diverse opinions.
“This should always be conducted with respect for the dignity of others, including those who wish to participate in the school’s traditions and heritage.”
UHS further stated that it welcomed freedom of speech but this had to be done constructively.
“While we welcome freedom of speech, we would encourage this to take place in a constructive manner, allowing our students to express themselves openly and without judgement. UHS is committed to developing further safe spaces to facilitate this.”
Academic Jonathan Jansen took to social media and criticised the school, saying its actions constituted a threat to democracy.
“[It] sends the wrong message to these courageous youth and indeed to all youth in our country. Regardless of how you or I feel about the state of Israel (or any other public issue for that matter), the right to protest, the right of dissent, is fundamental to the health of a democracy.”
He called on the school to reverse any disciplinary action and instead praise pupils for “acting on the courage of their convictions”.