South African lawmakers call to deregister Jewish school because it’s Zionist

“What’s next, a demand to purge Jewish prayer books of age-old prayers chanted daily for 2,000 years that emphasize the dream of a People yearning to return to Zion and Jerusalem?”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

South African politicians and Jewish groups have slammed a call by a local parliamentarian earlier this month to deregister a Jewish school because it is pro-Israel.

Wearing a keffiyah, Aishah Cassiem, a member of the the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a South African pan-Africanist and Marxist–Leninist political party, called for the local Herzlia High School’s removal from the education system on June 15 during a parliamentary debate in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature.

Her demand followed an interview given by Herzlia’s director of Jewish identity and community, Geoff Cohen, to an Israeli television station. Cohen discussed the Zionist education that his students were receiving and said that 22% of the school’s graduates visit Israel after graduating, adding that some also serve in the IDF.

This was unacceptable to Cassiem, who claimed during the debate that the school “is aligned to the apartheid state of Israel and encouraging learners to partake in apartheid” activities “and inhumane practices” by “encourag[ing]” students to join the IDF after completing 12th grade.

Herzlia was allowed to be Jewish, but not Zionist, she said.

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Cassiem’s call did not go unchallenged in the plenum. During the debate, Ferlon Christians of the rival African Christian Democratic Party said, “It’s absolutely shameful that a question like this was posed in this house. This school, Herzlia, is doing exceptionally well, with 100% pass rate and more than 95% of its students obtaining university exemption. The (ruling African National Congress party) ANC will stoop so low to bring [the school] to this house. Why?”

“Don’t use schoolchildren for your political agenda,” he added. “You have no right. I had the privilege to visit the school not so long ago, and I’ll go back and learn from them how we improve our education system because they are an example.”

Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape SAJBD) Chairperson Adrienne Jacobson said her organization was “deeply concerned by the EFF’s latest public attack” and would not “stand by and allow this political grandstanding to continue…. This is just the latest unsuccessful attempt by anti-Israel lobbyists to intimidate the Cape Town Jewish community.”

She then called on government and religious community leaders “to condemn the continuing attacks” on the community.

Others labeled Cassiem’s attack as antisemitism, including the country’s Zionist Federation head.

“It’s a travesty that antisemites are again finding ways to target people of the Jewish faith in South Africa under the thin veil of anti-Zionism, and it’s shameful that they are singling out a Jewish school to promote their hatred,” said National Chairman Rowan Polovin.

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“Instead of uniting and building bridges across all racial and religious groupings in South African society, these extremists wish to divide. Herzlia, as a Jewish school, promotes religious tolerance, non-racialism, understanding, and charity – the very antithesis to what these groupings are about,” he said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, Abraham Cooper, called Cassiem “another bigot who tries to hide her antisemitism under the banner of anti-Zionism. What’s next, a demand to purge Jewish prayer books of age-old prayers chanted daily for 2,000 years that emphasize the dream of a People yearning to return to Zion and Jerusalem?”

David Maynier, Education Member of the Legislature’s Executive Council, had a different take on Cassiem’s demand. He charged that the call was “an attempt to use a school” in a “disgraceful attempt to deflect attention from [ANC’s] support of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”

“We confirm that the school won’t be deregistered,” he told the South African Jewish Report.