(photo credit: AP [file])
A Monday reception featuring former US presidential hopeful and leading Republican politician Mike Huckabee at the Shepherd Hotel in east Jerusalem has turned into a hotly contested venue for protests both for and against Israeli policy in the area.
Two groups - Peace Now and Im Tirtzu - have called for a protest and counter-protest, respectively, on Monday evening, to coincide with the former Arkansas governor's planned appearance at the disputed east Jerusalem landmark. The groups represent either side of the growing debate over Jewish building rights in the annexed parts of the capital.
While protesters from other groups, including foreign left-wing activists who have been increasingly involved in east Jerusalem, are expected to protest the event as well, Peace Now and Im Tirtzu are the only two organizations to announce formal plans to demonstrate for or against Huckabee's appearance.
The reception itself is private and will be closed to the public, but representatives from both groups told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the event presented an important opportunity to make their voices heard, as the recent evictions of Arab families from their homes in the area and ongoing plans for the additional construction of Jewish housing in east Jerusalem have spurred a chorus of condemnation and thrust the area into the international limelight.
The Shepherd Hotel became the focus of American-Israeli tensions last month, after the US demanded that Ateret Cohanim - the group overseeing construction at the hotel and sponsoring Huckabee's arrival there Monday - halt its plans to build apartments at the site.
Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer said his group's view was in line with the American calls to halt construction in the area, as it was a "provocative measure" aimed at undermining Palestinian aspirations for the creation of a capital in east Jerusalem.
"Our protest is aimed at voicing our objection to the attempts of right-wing groups to exert control over east Jerusalem," Oppenheimer told the Post on Sunday. "We believe that these moves will only breed more anger and distrust among Arabs in the capital, and we see these attempts as nothing more than a provocation meant to undermine the possibility of a future peace agreement in the capital."
But Im Tirtzu (If you will it) - a student organization that promotes Zionist causes on college campuses nationwide - has called Peace Now's protest a "call for the division of Jerusalem," and the group sent out Facebook messages over the weekend encouraging supporters to come to the hotel on Monday evening to show support for Huckabee and for Israeli claims to all parts of the capital.
"We're going out there to show our support," Im Tirtzu's deputy director, Amit Barak, told the Post on Sunday. "We want to safeguard a unified Jerusalem and express that the vast majority of Israelis are against making concessions in the capital. We're talking about the Temple Mount, we're talking about the Old City, the historic sites in Jerusalem, because these are the places that the Jewish people have yearned for throughout thousands of years in exile. We're not talking about Malha Mall.
Oppenheimer rejected Barak's stance.
"The right-wing groups that are trying to change the reality on the ground will say that this is about Jewish rights to build anywhere in the capital, but this isn't Rehavia or Ramot. We believe that Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem and will be part of the Palestinian capital there."
Oppenheimer's assertion is a cornerstone of Im Tirtzu's call to counter-protest, as the Facebook page announcing it states: "We will not allow Jerusalem to turn into the capital of Palestine."
"Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people," Barak said. "And what Peace Now doesn't understand is that the Jewish people are not willing to give away Jerusalem."