Let’s imagine a scenario. A leading Muslim figure, an imam no less, and a member of the British House of Lords, extends a personal invitation to members of the British Muslim community to join a festival which has been known for inciting violence, extreme provocation and calling for the death of Jews. What’s more, the invitation to join fellow Muslims from all over the world in a foreign country to celebrate a historical event that marks the beginning of the occupation of Jewish land in violation of international law.
It is reasonably easy to imagine how this scenario would play out in public. At the very least, the imaginary imam would get a proper dressing down in the media. One would not be surprised if the imam was accused of anti-Semitism and inciting racial and religious hatred for calling on Muslims to join what is known to be a hate festival against Jews and for other members in the House of Lords to issue condemnatory statements.
While strong condemnation of the imam from within the Muslim community would follow, one assumes the media would focus instead on the racist chants and provocation that has become a key feature of the celebrations. It may prompt a public debate about deep-seated anti-Semitism within the Muslim community; after all, if an Imam can lend his support – however good intentioned – to a festival regarded by many as an anti-Semitic hate fest, hatred for Jews must therefore be widespread within the Muslim community.
It should be obvious by now that the imaginary imam is in fact a real life Jewish rabbi, a prominent member of the British Jewish community and a member of the British House of Lords. We should therefore not be surprised that the endorsement of two British rabbis of an annual event to mark Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, where rallies are held by extreme right wing Israeli settlers who call for the death of Arabs has been completely ignored by the British establishment.
The march, as highlighted by one Israeli newspaper, is largely attended by bussed in yeshiva students. It is associated with hate speech and violence, described by Bradley Burston in Israeli newspaper Haaretz as:
“An annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims…marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down.’ Demonstrators also shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.”
It is, to say the least, an extremely provocative and dangerous rally, highlighted no less by the recent public altercation between Israeli and US State Department officials over President Trump’s visit to the Western Wall.
The Israeli prime minster, who had hoped to accompany Trump – a move that would be seen as US endorsement of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem – was reportedly shocked after being told by US officials that “[it is] not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”
The widely-held view within Israel is that East Jerusalem is part of Israel, an illusion that has been celebrated annually since 1967 that is not even accepted by Israel’s closest allies. As others have pointed out, an “Undivided Jerusalem” is a fantasy that simply does not exist while the occupation of East Jerusalem manifests itself in every facet of Israeli rule over East Jerusalem.
It is thought that up to sixty thousand people marched through the city earlier this week, forcing Palestinian traders along the route to close their shops during the march as the parade passed through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and Palestinian Arab neighbourhoods. This year, for the first time, there were clashes between Israeli security forces and Jewish groups opposed to the occupation.
The endorsement of this extremely controversial hate-filled rally by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis highlights powerfully the depth of “occupation denial” not just within Israel but also within large sections of the Jewish community here in the UK. This, as one frustrated Jewish commentator points out, is a consequence of decades of normalisation of Israeli occupation through the Orthodox British Jewish education system.
“It is common,” says Anna Roiser, “even now in both formal and informal settings to reject the use of that word [occupation] to describe the situation in the West Bank.”
While both rabbis are regarded for being thoughtful, measured and conciliatory, questions need to be asked about the message they are sending by endorsing an annual rally that fuels hate and violence, not to mention celebrates the illegal occupation of another country.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.