Two Jewish students from United Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, South Africa, dropped to one knee during the playing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” in protest of the Jewish state.

The move was similar to the kneeling of American football players during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” protesting incidents of police brutality.

“We cannot sing ‘Hatikvah’ when we don’t approve of Israel’s policy,” said one of the students in a recorded audio statement. “It is a beautiful song, but it is also Israel’s national anthem. … You support Israel by singing its national anthem. They forced us to sing it, and we didn’t want that. The school claims they believe in freedom of speech, but in practice they only let us express favorable opinions towards Israel.”

“I hope that our protest will show other students that there is another side, and that pro-Palestinians are not terrorists, but students just like us. There is a huge debate about politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the local Jewish community. … I hope that we started a conversation,” he said.

The school put out a statement condemning the boys’ kneeling as “inappropriate,” and said their move “demonstrated deliberate and flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school.”

“We encourage kids to protests and debate, but the forum that they chose to protest in our opinion was embarrassing for us and for many people there. There are many forums within the school to express opinions and points of view, but this was not the right one,” the school’s management said.

Former South African Minister Roni Kasrilis praised the boys, saying “Israel violates human rights and international laws. These are things students could not ignore.”