This year marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and 50 since the Six-Day War. As a young, committed British Jew living in Israel, I should be proud to be here during this momentous year. But I am ashamed.
I’m not ashamed of the state of Israel. I’m some form of Zionist – even if the current political and military leaders of Israel are responsible for policies that I oppose with a passion. Like many young Jews in the diaspora, I fight hard to hold my Zionism in spite of hostility from my political counterparts and all the criticism that the Israeli government attracts.
I’m ashamed of activities endorsed by two of the most influential members of the Orthodox movement: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. This week they were in Jerusalem to support festivities planned by the organisation Mizrachi Olami.
One of these events is the annual Jerusalem Day March of the Flags on 24 May (yesterday). Thousands of young people from across the country were bussed in to march through the Jewish Old City, shutting down most of the Muslim quarter and surrounding areas.
This march has come to be associated with growing levels of hate speech and racist violence, including shouts of “Death to Arabs” and vandalism to Palestinian property. Today (Thursday), some of the delegates were due to visit Hebron and dance through the streets with IDF soldiers.
Hebron is a city in which 200,000 residents live under the control of 600 soldiers, protecting 850 settlers. This celebration is an unequivocally political act, blatantly supporting the settlers’ presence there.
The extent of the involvement of the Mizrachi Olami trip does not make a material difference; once they comply with these events, they blur the incredibly fine line between Israel and occupation.
This distinction is too fragile to be messed around with – whether or not Brits enter the Muslim quarter or attend Hebron themselves, they are unmistakably associating themselves with the controversies of these places.
Neither Rabbi Mirvis, Rabbi Lord Sacks or indeed any of the UK delegation will take part in the trip to Hebron. But if Rabbi Sacks is unwilling to participate himself, surely his support for the entire event urges others to
In his promotional video, he says that joining in with the celebration will be “one of the great moments of your life and mine”. Why is this moment so precious to him, when this delegation and its actions actively support the occupation, and undermine negotiations towards a peaceful two-state solution?
The hypocrisy of such prominent Jewish leaders in supporting this provocative display of fanaticism is damaging to the future of the diaspora. Young Jews like me strive to clarify that support for Israel is not the same as support for the occupation.
How can we maintain this, on university campuses, in Jewish societies and among non-Jewish friends, while our supposed representatives encourage dancing in triumph around the streets of one of the most focal points of the conflict, and a march that so publicly violates human dignity?
It is hugely important that this dangerous elision of Israel with the occupation does not go unnoticed. Hundreds of people have signed a letter, to which you can add your name, to Rabbi Lord Sacks calling him out on his promotion of this reprehensible political strategy.
We know from research that people place Israel at the core of their Jewish identity. Many young Jews around the world, however, cannot reconcile this aspect of their heritage with ideas of Tikkun Olam (healing the world) and the Jewish values we have inherited. The Jewish community is pushing its youth towards a precipice, implying again and again that to support Israel is to support the occupation.
If such important community leaders can get away with this, it’s less and less likely that the next generation of British Jews will be motivated to defend the state of Israel.
Where does this leave us?