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Jerusalem Diary 2023: Relative Calm

May 19, 2023

The consensus in Israeli media is that the Jerusalem Flag March took place with “relative calm,”--an overall success with just a few exceptional incidents.

The “incidents,” given significant coverage in the English-language Times of Israel and left-wing Haaretz and buried deep inside stories in the mainstream Maariv and Channel 12 media, included Israeli youth beating Palestinians and chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Let their village burn.” 

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of the city of Tzfat and a leader in the Religious Zionist community, said he didn’t hear any such chants and called the accusations a “blood libel.” This doesn’t surprise me, so I’m going to focus on the mainstream coverage.

Looking strictly at numbers, the percentage of young Israelis who beat up Palestinians is tiny. Most of the tens of thousands of men, women, and children I saw singing, dancing, and picnicking downtown had no thought of being violent. I wish I could have joined them with a clear conscience. 

But there are two reasons we can’t get away with the euphemism of “relative calm.” 

First, exactly how many violent beatings would have been acceptable? Or newsworthy? How many times would the marchers have to shout “Death to Arabs” before it becomes unacceptable?

After the Israeli flags, the most common flag on display belonged to the Lehava organization. As Medialine reports, “Lehava is a Jewish supremacist organization based in Israel that denounces assimilation and intermarriage. Sometimes described as a Jewish version of the Ku Klux Klan, the group not only opposes interfaith marriages but also LGBT rights, a Christian presence in Israel, and Jews associating with non-Jews.” Lehava members were convicted of burning down the first grade classroom at a mixed Jewish-Arab school, and they have been involved in many lesser acts of violence. Anyone carrying that flag was condoning violence, and that should be called out. 

Second, what they did was completely in line with the messages of the march as a whole. I was pleasantly surprised to find several opinion pieces on “Srugim,” the flagship news site of the Religious Zionist community, that made this point. 

In one of them, educator Yoel Kretzmer-Raziel wrote, “The problem with the flag dance is not limited to the physical violence and the songs of revenge and hatred. The very act of marching through the Muslim quarter, requiring the residents to shut themselves in their houses, is a demonstration of unbearable lordship, which conveys an unequivocal message about who’s the boss and who needs to be controlled and transparent, a mere decoration that will soon disappear.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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