Herzog at Jerusalem Day event warns ‘senseless hatred’ leads to destruction

President calls to ‘put the internal debate aside’ to achieve societal peace, as judicial overhaul talks remain stalled and nationalists hold contentious parade through capital

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day at Ammunition Hill in the capital, May 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at a state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day at Ammunition Hill in the capital, May 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog on Thursday issued a warning about internal hatred leading to destruction in comments marking Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli control, but has been marred in recent years by a contentious nationalist march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

Herzog’s comments came as government leaders said talks hosted by the president aimed at reaching a compromise on the coalition’s judicial overhaul remained stalled. The legislation has exposed fault lines in Israeli society and sparked massive protests and political discord.

The never-ending journey of Jerusalem “has taught us as a society and a country that there is only one way for us to undertake this journey — together,” Herzog said at an official state ceremony.

“In particular on Jerusalem Day,” Herzog added, he must cite the phrase from Jewish sages “that senseless hatred destroyed Jerusalem — and I emphasize: Unjustified hatred is not just a reason but a consequence of itself; there are factors that lead to it.”

Rabbinic texts explain the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple 2,000 years ago and the dispersal of the ancient Israelites as a consequence of the toxic relationship between rival Jewish sects in Jerusalem.

Herzog added that stories of hatred and destruction throughout Jewish history all stem from an inability “to manage the disagreement, to solve the dispute, to put the internal debate aside on the way to peace. That’s what leads to hatred, and hatred leads to destruction.”

The Jewish people must learn from such lessons and put their findings into action, he said.

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial overhaul negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the overhaul plans in March following mass protests and a general strike held in response to Netanyahu firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, opening the door for compromise talks between opposition and coalition representatives hosted by Herzog.

Despite nearly two months of ongoing talks between teams representing the coalition and the opposition’s two biggest parties, no tangible progress has been made, according to sources close to the issue.

Up until March, the coalition rushed forward with legislation that would bring most judicial appointments under government control and curb the oversight powers of the High Court of Justice.

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against the government, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic character. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an over-intrusive court system.

The coalition is focused on passing the crucial state budget, but once the budget is approved, it appears likely that the government will return its focus to its judicial overhaul agenda.

The government’s efforts to pass the budget have also been marked by coalition infighting as different parties vie for funding.

Young Jewish men hold Israeli flags and flags of the far-right Lehava organization at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Thousands of Israelis took part in Jerusalem Day’s so-called Flag March on Thursday, with the highly controversial annual event again featuring racist chants and scuffles with Palestinian residents as the largely teenage, religious nationalist participants made their way through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

The annual parade to the Western Wall marks Israel’s reunification of East and West Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, but has gained notoriety over the years as it is often marred by hate speech and violence by far-right Jewish participants toward Palestinians and their property.

The particularly charged aspect of the Flag March is its route through the Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter, which are overwhelmingly used by Palestinians. Critics say the rally is designed to provoke Palestinians, who are forced by the Israel Police to shutter their shops to allow for the demonstration.

Among the marchers were over a dozen coalition members, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir — a longtime participant in the rally. Thursday was the first time he did so as a cabinet minister, offering an additional stamp of legitimacy to the lightning rod event.

Different groups of Flag March participants clashed and beat Palestinian locals and harassed journalists. They also sang racist chants such as “Death to Arabs,” “May your village burn” and “An Arab is a son of a b**ch,” as they danced near the Damascus Gate both before and during the rally on Thursday afternoon.

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