President Reuven Rivlin became the first president in 17 years to visit the West Bank city of Hebron, though he was greeted with low-level skirmishes between demonstrators and local Jewish settlers in the divided city.
The president inaugurated the revamped Hebron Heritage Museum, which was established in memory of 67 Jewish victims who were massacred on one day in the city by Arab residents during a riot on August 24, 1929.
Rivlin also visited the adjacent settlement of Kiryat Arba, where he was greeted by local schoolchildren and teachers.
Hebron’s small community of Jewish settlers is a major point of contention, and Rivlin’s visit was protested by activists from the left-wing Meretz party and the Breaking the Silence human rights organization who gathered outside the museum.
Scuffles broke out between the demonstrators and local settlers during the visit.
Police distanced the protesters from the building where Rivlin spoke to members of the Jewish community about the need for unity, even as Israelis prepare for national elections.
“We are allowed to disagree, but we cannot be disrespectful,” he said. “Not on the right, nor on the left. Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, alike, deserve respect.”
The president explained that voices from both the right and the left have called on him to boycott events because of the political views of their sponsors, calls that he said he flatly rejects.
“Organizations on the left asked me to boycott the Jewish community in Hebron,” he said. “And on the right, I was asked to boycott the Haaretz democracy conference. I did not cancel my visit to Hebron, as I would never cancel my participation at Haaretz’s conference on democracy.”
Right-wing groups have opposed the participation of the New Israel Fund in the Haaretz newspaper’s democracy conference. The NIF, which oversees funding for a variety of nonprofit organizations, has raised ire in the past for its harsh criticism and activities against Israel’s control of the West Bank.
The last visit to the region by an Israeli president was that of Ezer Weizman in 1998, when he paid a condolence call to the family of Shlomo Ra’anan, a rabbi from the nearby Jewish enclave of Tel Rumeida who was stabbed to death in a terror attack.