For years, my Jerusalem Day has been held captive. This year I hope to see the beginning of the flowering of its redemption.
A day that, at its core, celebrates national salvation from the brink of what seemed to be sure and complete destruction, should belong to the entire Jewish people. It is true that, in the wake of this victory, the state made historic decisions that some today will look back at with 20/20 hindsight and question or condemn. And it is true that these decisions, in tandem with the reactions and decisions made by others, have snowballed over the last 55 years into circumstances that present difficult, impossible, troubling moral dilemmas. But all that is fundamentally no less true of our victory in 1948, and yet, the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews enthusiastically celebrate Independence Day.
It is true that Jerusalem Day has always been different, that it has always been celebrated almost exclusively by the religious right, by the supporters of the settlement movement that was enabled by the victories of the Six Day War. As opposed to Independence Day, official Jerusalem Day celebrations are never pushed earlier in the week to prevent the desecration of Shabbat, because the assumption is that the only people who mark the day are religious observers of Shabbat. I used to be disappointed with those who didn’t celebrate, and even angry with them, for their inability to distinguish between being grateful for what was saved (the entire Zionist project, and the 200,000 Jews animating it), and being unhappy with how it later played out. I can understand those who oppose the settlement movement as a whole. And I will heartily agree with those who oppose and condemn the vigilante violence, the hatred and the racism that exist at its (expanding) margins. But is that all that Jerusalem Day is about?
In recent years, I have felt that the mainstream celebration of the day, embodied in the march of flags through the Muslim quarter, has answered with an increasingly deafening: Yes! The Jerusalem Day that I celebrate, that I believe we can and ought to all celebrate, a day to be grateful for salvation, has been kidnapped by a Jerusalem Day expressed with an aggressive celebration of conquest and defeat of the other, a day marked by violently rubbing defeat in the face of the Arab residents and shopkeepers of the Muslim quarter, a day marked by legitimizing and mainstreaming hatred and racism.
This year, that process of mainstreaming seems to be nearly complete. The march through the Muslim quarter, accompanied by enthusiastic singing that “Muhammad is dead” and “Your village should burn”, will be led by government ministers, leaders of the party that has appropriated the name of “Religious Zionism” and the party that speaks in the name of “Jewish Power”, by leaders who legitimize violence and vigilantism in the form of Jewish pogroms against random Palestinians, and threaten to turn it to law when they speak of blanket immunity for Israeli forces, and of using their power to wipe out entire Arab villages.
But out of that very darkness, a glimmer of hope begins to shine. In the context of a government that has “othered” all of its opponents and turned them into enemies of the state, a government which aggressively rubs defeat in the face of that “other”, and seeks to assert dominion, ownership, and absolute control- Jerusalem Day’s captivity can be appreciated as a microcosm, or perhaps a harbinger. And as the opponents of the government have fought against the kidnapping of Zionism by reclaiming the flag and the Scroll of Independence, some will today reclaim Jerusalem Day, marching from the President’s Residence to Liberty Bell Park, to celebrate Jerusalem as a capital that stands for a Jewish and democratic vision that is based not on dominion, violence and hatred, but on the values shared by the overwhelming majority of Israelis. I will be proud to join them, to begin a process of redeeming Jerusalem day from its ugly captivity.