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Defending Safe Spaces and Freedom of Expression

Defending Safe Spaces and Freedom of Expression


Why this is important

Defend Freedom of Expression in the Jewish Community

We, the undersigned members of the South African Jewish community, are deeply saddened by the exaggerated attacks on King David Victory Park (KDVP) Deputy-Head Boy Joshua Broomberg. Josh has been vilified for his position on the recent conflict in Israel and calls have been made for him to be removed from his position and stripped of his Honours.

We believe that he is entitled to his views, even if we don’t agree with them. We believe that silencing people, especially young people, is not in the spirit of our community. Freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are values we treasure. We call for the attacks on Josh to stop.

Josh is captaining South Africa at the World Schools Debating Championships in Thailand. On 6 August, the Team posted a picture on Facebook with them wearing Keffiyeh’s indicating sympathy with the civilians who have died recently in Gaza. There has been understandable surprise at seeing three young Jewish people taking such a stand. What we can’t accept is the vicious tone of some of the responses, and the desire to shut down debate on a question that concerns us all.

A petition has been started calling for the “removal of the Deputy Head Boy of King David High School from all leadership positions and his honours revoked”.

We do not support such a call.

Josh has responded with his own statement. Some important elements of his statement are these:

“I am proud to be a South African Jew, and am proud to attend a Jewish Day School. I am also a Zionist. I believe in Israel’s right to exist, and her right to defend herself...

“In my eyes, this criticism was not a betrayal, but actually the only honest and true way to show my patriotism and commitment to Israel, as well as my belief in human rights and the entitlement of all citizens of all countries to those rights. To improve, we must criticise.

“I will note, explicitly, that our support and sympathy also lies with the innocent Israelis exposed to threat... We took a stand for the thousands and for those without a voice but we do not for a second condone any violence whatsoever. We stand for peace.”

We don’t need to agree with Josh’s views to respect his right to hold and express them. This is about more than just one particular person. It is about guarding against the development of a culture of victimisation and censorship. Increasingly students have felt ostracised for expressing opinions which are different within their school environment.

We believe that all schools, including Jewish schools and our communities at large need to be safe spaces which prioritise tolerance, value debate and promote freedom of expression. The alternative is for passionate young people, of which Josh is undoubtedly one, to be alienated from the Jewish community.

As the Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein recently wrote in the Star and other papers, “To vilify or denigrate anyone who dares to express an opposing view is undemocratic, and is to desecrate the sanctity of free speech”.

Defend freedom of expression in our Jewish community.

Initial signatories, recent King David Victory Park student leadership:

Deborah Davidson [Head Girl, Matric 2006]

Joshua Drobis [Head Boy, Matric 2006]

Jessica Price [Head Girl, Matric 2007]

Jaron Meyerson [Head Boy, Matric 2007]

Amanda Ballen [Deputy-Head Girl, Matric 2007]

Natasha Salant [Head Girl, Matric 2009]

Ilan Price [Head Boy, Matric 2009]

Daniel Katzew [Deputy-Head Boy, Matric 2009]

Kyla Meyerson [Head Girl, Matric 2010]

Galit Seligman [Head Girl, Matric 2011]

Jordan Bortz [Head Boy, Matric 2011]

Sarah Katzew [Head Girl, Matric 2012]

Julia Chaskalson [Deputy-Head Girl, Matric 2013]

Jess Weisz [Head Girl, Matric 2014]

Posted August 9, 2014
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