(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin canceled the participation of left-wing NGO Emek Shaveh in that was supposed to lead a walking tour in the Mamilla Muslim cemetery and was scheduled to take place this weekend as part of the Open House Worldwide Project.
Elkin targeted the tour’s guide, Yonatan Mizrachi, and said on Tuesday that he will not allow his participation in a project that is funded by his ministry.
“We will not accept the fact that state funding will be given to a person who says that state-funded archeological excavations in the City of David and in the Western Wall tunnels are like Hamas tunnels, and [considering] that a representative of the organization was interviewed for an Islamic Movement incitement video against the State of Israel,” he said.
Emek Shaveh is an organization that encourages criticism of archeological activity, and operates tours in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
This same tour, which has been held several times by Open House Worldwide, was canceled from its schedule.
The NGO is supported by, among other entities, the New Israel Fund, which funds left-wing NGOs and is heavily criticized by the Israeli Right.
Mizrachi rejected the accusations made by Elkin, and said that he never compared Israel to Hamas.
“He said two lies in one press release,” Mizrachi told The Jerusalem Post.
“We have strong criticism against these excavations and the tunnel digging in the Old City and in Silwan.
This is professional criticism; in our opinion, they are doing it the wrong way. We say, and we will keep saying, that these tunnels are a problem politically, and also from the security perspective,” he said.
“But all this nonsense about me saying that Israel is Hamas, is a blunt lie and rubbish,” the tour guide said.
Mizrachi said the cancellation caught him by surprise, and he found out only after a Facebook user asked when the tour would take place.
When he checked, he saw that it had been deleted from the project’s website. He said that this move by Elkin came after the minister was approached by right-wing activists who advised him to do so.
“It is my right to think differently from Elkin,” Mizrachi added. “If he wants to silence me because my thoughts are different from his, it’s a problem,” he said.
“We have a tour here about Muslim heritage in Mamilla. I ask myself: if we had a tour to synagogues in Nahlaot, would he also cancel the tour?” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter to Deputy Attorney- General Dina Zilber regarding this issue.
“The demand to cancel a tour because of the opinions or statements of the tour guide is not in accordance with the position of a cabinet minister, who is causing severe damage to freedom of speech,” the letter reads.