The Tag Meir coexistence organization conducted its ninth annual Flower March through the Old City of Jerusalem Thursday morning as a counterpoint to the nationalist Flag March later in the day.
The left-wing organization said several hundred participants had taken part in the march, distributing flowers to residents of the Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters in order to spread a message of “love, inclusion [and] solidarity” ahead of what the organizers described as the “racism and incitement” of the Flag March.
“We need to remember that this day is not a happy day for the Palestinians and Muslims in Jerusalem. They are 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population. That is why we think the Flag March should go through a different route, and not force them to close their stores,” Tag Meir director Gadi Gvaryahu told The Times of Israel.
The Flag March, organized by hardline right-wing and religious organizations and dedicated to celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, proceeds through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter before ending up at the Western Wall plaza.
Some elements among the religious Zionist youth who constitute the large majority of marchers invariably chant provocative and racist songs during the procession, while Palestinian merchants in the Old City are required or strongly recommended by authorities to shut their shops and kiosks to avoid friction with the revelers.
Gvaryahu noted that the route of the march, which began in 1968 when revered religious Zionist leader Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook walked from his Merkaz Harav Yeshiva to the Western Wall with his followers, used to go through the Jaffa Gate and the Jewish Quarter and only began entering the Muslim Quarter in the early 2000s.
“This march is not necessary, it just increases hate and anger, and who needs that? It fulfills the desires of extremists on both sides, which is to have war and fear and terror,” he argued.
“We don’t have to recapture Jerusalem every year. The march is just about showing them [the Palestinians] that the city is ours. We treat them like we can do anything with them.”
Gvaryahu said that some of the Palestinian residents of the Old City “happily accept the flowers with a smile,” but others reject them, seeing the initiative as just another Jewish group that is part and parcel of Israel’s control over their lives.
“We give flowers to everyone we see — Muslim, Christian, Jewish — but we don’t go to the Jewish Quarter because no one asks the shopkeepers there to shut their stores,” he noted.
Several other coexistence and left-wing events were being staged later in the day in protest of the Flag March, including an event by the Free Jerusalem group titled “Fascism won’t Pass” in Jerusalem’s city center, as well as a “March for Equality, Democracy and Neighborliness” starting out from the President’s Residence and organized by a group called Protecting a Shared Home.
Matan Peleg, CEO of the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, which helps organize the Flag March, sees the matter very differently.
“We are coming to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem, which is an amazing day. This city never had freedom of religion except when under Jewish sovereignty, and we want to celebrate this,” Peleg told The Times of Israel.
“We are celebrating the Jewish dream, the Zionist dream, and the democratic dream. It’s about Jerusalem being the unified capital of Israel. It’s a happy event from wall to wall,” he continued.
“Anyone who has a problem with this march has a problem with Zionism.”
Asked why the Flag March cannot celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem by going through the Jewish Quarter, Peleg argued that especially on Jerusalem Day, it was the right of marchers to go through any part of the city they desired.
“The march is not intended to harm anyone. [The Palestinians] can be strong, they can suffer through it and they’ll survive.
“I expect them to be happy and whoever doesn’t feel happy can stay at home, it’s a free country, but on Jerusalem Day when celebrating the unity of the city we should be able to go through all the gates of the Old City and fly the flag of Israel.”
Asked if it would be appropriate for an LGBTQ pride parade to be routed through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, Peleg claimed that the comparison was not valid, and argued that the march was not being conducted through Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem such as Issawiya or Shuafat, although the Muslim Quarter is itself an overwhelmingly Palestinian neighborhood.
“This is the Old City of Jerusalem; it’s at the center of the Jewish people’s desires, we dreamed about this for generations,” he said.
Peleg said he and Im Tirtzu “are opposed to expressions of racism” heard in pasts years from some marchers, and said he called on participants to “be respectful” during the event.
“There is no place for racist chants [here], like in all aspects of society,” he said.
Peleg said that Im Tirtzu has been less involved in organizational activities this year, but that it has provided dozens of buses to bring participants to the march.
The major organization behind the Flag March is the right-wing, religious Am Kelavi group headed by Yaakov Novick, which was founded in the 1990s to oppose against the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.
The Jerusalem Municipality provided NIS 500,000 ($137,000) to Am Kelavi for this year’s march, a similar figure as previous years.
One of the two listed board members of Am Kelavi on the Guidestar NGO registry under the Justice Ministry is Baruch Kahane.
An official with Am Kelavi would not confirm whether or not the Baruch Kahane listed as an organization board member is the son of the late ultranationalist, racist rabbi, politician and far-right leader Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement was outlawed in the 1990s. Kahane’s son Baruch is active in far-right groups, including the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea founded by his father.
Baruch Kahane also serves as an authorized official for the Institute for the Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, which publishes the rabbi’s works.
Am Kelavi’s total revenue for 2021, the last year financial details are available for, was NIS 521,000, with NIS 500,000 coming from the Jerusalem Municipality, meaning the organization is almost entirely publicly funded.
Laura Wharton, a member of the Jerusalem City Council for the left-wing Meretz party, said she was adamantly opposed to city funding going to Am Kelavi and the Flag March.
“The city should come to the conclusion that since this parade has become racist and violent, we should stop working with this organization and either let them run it by themselves or put out a tender and allow other organizations to run the march while emphasizing tolerance and diversity,” Wharton said.
“Instead of celebrating the fact that Jerusalem is united, the extreme right together with a bunch of religious fanatics march through the Old City and yell racist and despicable slogans, as if they want everyone who isn’t like them chased out of the city,” she continued.
“What is most beautiful about this city is how many different religions and groups there are and how for the most part we live in peace. But instead of a day of unity, Jerusalem Day has become a day of extremism, with a violent minority trying to chase out all the rest.”