A visit to Israel by a delegation from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has raised eyebrows, with some accusing the department of conducting the trip under a veil of secrecy. The visit was widely condemned on Thursday after photos of WCED official Karen Dudley circulated on social media, in which she poses with Israeli soldiers. The photo was snapped during an apparent educational visit to learn about the negative impact of oppression and the Holocaust.
According to the WCED, the visit was organised by the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre in partnership with Yad Vashem School of Holocaust and was paid by the organisations. The department said the objectives of the excursion was for holidaying teachers to apparently grow their content knowledge and take the knowledge acquired and help learners relate to issues of prejudice, racism and human rights abuses in their own schools and local environments. The WCED delegation includes the director of curriculum, general and education training, the deputy chief education specialist in social sciences, eight social sciences history subject advisors and 11 teachers.
But the WCED has received sharp criticism, with some accusing the department of keeping it under wraps. Israel has been condemned as an apartheid state and is in violation of international laws pertaining to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, including the South African chapter, have been working to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and in doing so, have discouraged people from visiting Israel.
While the WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond declined to conduct a formal interview with VOC, she responded in writing by saying that the trip was apparently part of an education initiative and had no ill-intent. Hammond denounced the allegations that the trip was underhanded.
“It was an invitation that was accepted by the department and is a valuable opportunity to gain direct insight into the Jewish perspective of a critical part of world history,” she said.
She continued by stating that the teaching of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany is widely covered in the SA curriculum and that it also relates to issues of prejudice and racism during apartheid, which was important for teachers to understand.
“There is no ill intent or agenda, but a learning opportunity presented for our educators on a very extensive part of our curriculum.”
However, the African National Congress (ANC) shadow MEC for Education in the Western Cape, Khalid Sayed, responded with anger to the visit. Sayed questioned that if the true intention of the visit was in fact to educate children about the Holocaust, “why was a trip to Germany not assigned instead”.
Serious questions are being asked as to whether the WCED fully comprehends the violence and trauma placed on Palestinian children, as a result of Israeli occupation. Israeli settlers and military personnel have violently assaulted and killed thousands. There are over 330 Palestinian children in Israeli military jails and the prosecution of an estimated 500 to 700 Palestinian children in Israeli courts.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) stated that the military occupation of Palestine, coupled with the bombing of schools stands to negatively affect over 1 million children’s access to education.
Sayed said that he would not take the trip lightly and would be asking hard-hitting questions about the journey by educators to an occupying entity, to Education MEC Debbie Schafer, when Parliament is back in session. VOC