Hundreds of Israelis gathered in downtown Jerusalem Wednesday evening to protest a wave of nationalistic violence that swept the city a day earlier.
Organized by the Tag Meir Forum, a grassroots group devoted to combating hate crimes, the rally drew a largely young and secular crowd including youth movement activists and students under the banner of “We mourn, we don’t take revenge.”
Speakers at the event included opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor), MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Jerusalem council member Rachel Azaria, and Rabbi Benny Lau of the city’s Ramban Synagogue.
The rally was hastily organized in response to extreme-right wing demonstrations in downtown Jerusalem during the funerals of Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah Tuesday evening. Demonstrators called out “Death to the Arabs” and “No Arabs, no terror attacks.” Many wore stickers and shirts expressing support for the slain ultra-nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane. Jerusalem police arrested at least 47 ultra-nationalist Jewish demonstrators across town.
The Tag Meir rally also made reference to an Israeli Facebook campaign that has garnered tens of thousands of supporters using the hashtag “Israel demands revenge.”
“I knew the second the three [Israeli] teenagers were buried that all hell would break loose here in Jerusalem. We’ve seen it happen before,” said Rabbi Uri Ayalon, associate director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, a religion-based pro-peace NGO.
He added that police should have been more vigilant in preventing hate crimes in Jerusalem — a notoriously nationalistic city — the moment news of the three teens’ death broke Monday night.
“It’s time to raise a different voice — one which I believe is more common, even if more quiet — saying ‘We don’t take revenge.’ We deal with things like a civilized country,” Ayalon said.
Nadav Rothberg, 22, came to the demonstration along with three members of his commune at Kibbutz Na’aran in the southern Jordan Valley. “We decided to put aside our swimming pool time and come,” he said.
“What’s happening goes against my conscience and is also wrong from a Jewish perspective. Violence is wrong, whether directed at us or at the Arabs,” added Rothberg.
Jewish violence still reflects only a minority of the population, Rothberg opined, but is disconcerting nonetheless. “It has become something tangible, not just slogans, which is very worrying… Arabs were attacked in this case, and Jews were attacked before.”
The rally took place as Palestinian demonstrators in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat took to the streets, hurling stones at police to protest the death of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir early Wednesday morning. Abu Khdeir’s cause of death has not yet been disclosed by police; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a swift investigation into the incident.
“Muhammed, too, has a name,” said Rabbi Benny Lau, referring to the common media reference to the victim as “a Palestinian youth,” in contrast to the three slain Israeli teenagers, whose names have become widely known.
MK Michal Biran (Labor) said she came to the event “to strengthen those who say that violence is unacceptable under any circumstances.
“Dragging teenagers into a political conflict, on either side, is illegitimate,” the young parliamentarian said. “The way to deal with this is through conversation and dialogue. There are those who incite and those who calm things down,” she added, referring to comments by family members of murdered teen Naftali Fraenkel, who condemned the apparent murder of Abu Khdeir as “shocking.”
Biran said that witnessing the nationalistic violence in Jerusalem on Tuesday was like “looking at ourselves in the mirror, and seeing who we really are.” That is why more moderate elements in society should also speak up, she added.
Gadi Gevaryahu, director of Tag Meir, was pleased with the turnout as the two-hour event was dying down. “It’s the largest event we’ve ever had,” he said, estimating the number of participants at up to 3,000.
“Every side needs to experience the anguish of the other side. Then, maybe, there’ll be a chance for coexistence. Right now, people just see their own sorrow and don’t care one bit about the sorrow of the other.”