(JTA) — When 18-year old South African cricket player David Teeger was recognized with a “rising star” honor at a Jewish awards ceremony in October, he dedicated the accolade to Israel.
“Yes, I’ve been [given] this award, and yes, I’m now the rising star, but the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel,” Teeger said, according to the South African Jewish Report. “And I’d like to dedicate it to the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the Diaspora.”
Teeger, who observes Shabbat and keeps kosher, is the captain of South Africa’s under-19 cricket team, which is set to compete in its age group’s World Cup next year. He also holds a high-ranking leadership position at his prestigious King Edward VII School in Johannesburg.
In response to his pro-Israel comments, the local Palestine Solidarity Alliance filed a complaint with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, which launched an investigation into Teeger. He was reportedly suspended from playing cricket while the investigation was ongoing.
Respected barrister Wim Trengove, appointed to lead the inquiry, ultimately cleared Teeger of wrongdoing earlier this month. He ruled that Teeger’s comments did not violate the South African constitution or the code of conduct of his cricket team, the Central Gauteng Lions, according to the South African Daily Maverick newspaper.
“The Constitutional Court has made the point that the right to freedom of expression does not protect hate speech, but emphasized that the expression of unpopular or even offensive beliefs does not constitute hate speech,” Trengove wrote in his findings.
In a similar episode earlier this year, the South African Rugby Union disinvited an Israeli team from an international competition after facing pressure from the South African BDS Coalition, an affiliate of the Palestinian BDS National Committee that promotes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. In that case, rugby’s global governing body ruled that the move was not discriminatory.
Though Teeger was cleared by the investigation, Jewish leaders in South Africa are displeased.
“Cricket South Africa should be ashamed of itself to subject a young schoolboy to a Maoist inquisition to test his ideological purity,” South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, said in a YouTube video, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Goldstein also took aim at the Palestine Solidarity Alliance, which he accused of having ties to Hamas and Iran. He said their supporters “celebrated the killing of 1,200 Jews on Oct. 7 [and] began a hateful campaign against Cricket South Africa,” according to the Chronicle.
Goldstein also accused South African President Cyril Ramaphosa of fomenting antisemitism in the country, where the government recently voted to suspend its diplomatic ties with Israel. “Mr. President, you have set the tone for all of this because the South African government’s targeting of Israel is in effect antisemitic,” Goldstein said in the video.
Pro-Palestinian sentiment is widespread in South Africa, where Apartheid rule discriminated against non-whites for much of the second half of the 20th century. Many contemporary pro-Palestinian activists claim that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is analogous to Apartheid South Africa.
Over 50,000 Jews live in South Africa today.
Mandy Yachad, a Jewish former cricket star who represented South Africa in international competitions, told the Chronicle he would boycott upcoming cricket events over what he called the “racist” treatment of Teeger.
“Not only will I not accept invitations to the pavilion as a former national player, but I will refuse to enter any of the grounds where the matches are being played,” Yachad said. “I love watching our teams, especially at the Wanderers and at Newlands, but not after what’s just happened.”