By Kobi Weiner
This year marks the Yovel, the 50th anniversary, of the Israeli victory in the 6 Day War and the Reunification of Jerusalem. There is no doubt that this is a time to honour the memory of a war which, had we lost, would have mean the annihilation of Israel but instead we won miraculously. Perhaps even more so, we should celebrate the 50 years we’ve been able to access the whole of Jerusalem, including the Kotel and the Temple Mount. My Yeshiva are marking the occasion by travelling to Jerusalem for a special tefillah at the Kotel, plus two days of studying, exploring, singing and dancing in our Holy Capital.
Nor should the celebratory atmosphere be limited to Israelis (and pretend Israelis like myself), because the strength and safety of Israel is in the interest of all Jews, and Jerusalem is historically, culturally and religiously important in the Diaspora too. That is why I am pleased that Mizrachi – the movement from which Bnei Akiva grew out of and remains affiliated to – is organising a trip to Israel to mark this special and significant occasion. However, the celebratory atmosphere does not preclude Mizrachi from being sensitive to where it goes and whom it associates with.
Unfortunately, the trip has decided to join the ‘Rikudgalim’, an annual march through the streets of Jerusalem, a seemingly cheerful parade that actually encompasses the most extreme right wing of Israeli society. Although Mizrachi officially will be ending their march outside the old city, the path of the march continues by taking in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and marchers are known to bang drums whilst chanting racist slogans such as “Death to Arabs”. In order to allow the marchers to pass, Arabs often have to close their shops and cannot leave their houses, and in previous years there has been physical violence reported.
Additionally, the Mizrachi tour will be travelling to Chevron, to dance in the streets and daven at Ma’arat Hamachpela. Whilst the city is of course one of the holiest in our culture and history, the Jewish population of Chevron is amongst the most extreme and violent of the Settler movement, and it is perhaps the most contentious spot in Yehuda v’Shomron. I spent a Shabbat there a few months ago, and there is no doubt it is a beautiful city and welcoming community. However, I was also painfully aware of an extreme attitude that considers their Palestinian neighbours as almost inferior human beings. It was very noticeable that walking through the streets of Chevron meant a lockdown for the Palestinians living there, and again there was racist chanting going on and small, provocative acts of violence by both sides.
Of course Mizrachi is right to be taking part in this remarkable occasion of Yerushalayim’s yovel. I’m sure it will be a meaningful and spiritual journey, and I encourage them to explore the country and pray at places like the Kotel and Ma’arat HaMachpela. However, their plans to join these marches are of a different, and dangerously political, nature. In taking part in these events they give legitimacy to the most fringe, racist sentiments in Israeli politics. In what should be a time to show off the positive development of Jerusalem since 1967, and its enduring holiness since David HaMelech, I worry that Mizrachi may associate themselves with racists and violence.
I hope Mizrachi will cut out these two events, which could ruin what is otherwise a time of peacefulness, happiness and celebration.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article suggested that Rabbi Sacks would be participating in the Rikudgalim and the trip to Chevron. Rabbi Sacks’ office has clarified that this is not the case and never has been. It has also clarified that Mizrachi will officially be ending their march in Jerusalem before it enters the Old city. The article has been amended and I apologise for any offence caused.