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SA debating team in final after furore over keffiyehs

Sapa, Staff Reporter

The SA team faces England in the World Schools Debating Championships after taking flack for its show of support for the Palestinian people.

A rally in Johannesburg last week drew a crowd of well over 10 000 people from across the country in support of Israel's actions in Gaza. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The South African national debating team, which faced criticism over its show of support for the Palestinian people last week, will compete in the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) final against England in Thailand on Thursday.

King David Victory Park deputy head boy Joshua Broomberg and two of his debate teammate, came under fire last week for wearing keffiyehs – which is recognised as a Palestinian symbol – and Palestinian badges to the WSDC. 

(Pic from Facebook)

The furore began when Broomberg was tagged last week in a photo on social media platform Facebook. The picture caption read: “Team South Africa wearing Palestinian badges and keffiyehs to show our opposition to human rights violations carried out against the people of Palestine. #WSDC2014”. 

Online petition
An online petition was launched soon thereafter calling for Broomberg’s removal as deputy head boy and as a member of the school’s student representative council, as he had brought the school into disrepute. By the morning of August 5, over 2 000 people had signed the petition. 

On Friday, Broomberg posted a statement on his Facebook page where he apologised, saying that the picture was not intended to “create an uproar”, “offend, or upset”. Broomberg said he was a proud South African Jew, proud to attend a Jewish day school, and was also a Zionist. 

He went on to say that he believed in Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, while all citizens in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza had an absolute right to live in peace and security. 

Broomberg said while he loved and supported the state of Israel, he still rejected and criticised some of its actions. “In fact, I consider it my duty to contribute to the growing worldwide discussion surrounding the desperate need for a quick end and lasting solution to this pernicious conflict,” he said. 

“In my eyes, this criticism is 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,” said Broomberg. 

ANC in support of Broomberg
The South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) distanced itself on Monday from the petition calling for the removal of Broomberg, saying that decisions at the school or interactions with students should not be made from pressure received from an “online storm”. 

On Tuesday, the ANC came out in support of Broomberg and his debate teammates, saying that the three “embody South Africa’s constitutional principles”. The party also called upon all progressive and peace loving South Africans, including those of Jewish faith, to support the actions of Broomberg and others like him who were prepared to stand for a better world. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the SABJE said in a statement that Broomberg had apologised for the furore over the picture of him wearing the Palestinian scarf. “This has been a learning opportunity for the 17-year-old pupil concerned [Broomberg] and he has both explained his stance in a later posting and genuinely apologised for the hurt it produced.” 

“We acknowledge that the picture posted was insensitive and hurtful and was seen as such in the community. 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.” 

The board said Broomberg had had a great deal to offer to the school over the years and had achieved notable successes. It also went on to say that it “[recognised] that the conflict that is taking place in the Middle East is devastating and the loss of all life and injuries sustained are deeply painful to us”. The board considered the matter to be closed, with no further action to be taken. 

Meanwhile, Broomberg and his fellow teammates, Samual Musker, Rachel Gardiner, Kate Dewey and Saadiyah Mayet will face England in the WSDC debating final at midday on Thursday . – Sapa, additional reporting by Staff Reporter

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