Israelis have an obvious right to march with their flags in Jerusalem, but there must be no tolerance for violent extremism, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday as annual Jerusalem Day festivities were disrupted by violence and racist chants.
“Flying the Israeli flag in the capital of Israel is self-evident; therefore, we have been crystal clear on the subject from the outset,” Bennett told his ministers at their weekly meeting.
He spoke as Israel’s right to hold Israel's Jerusalem Day flag march in its capital of Jerusalem has been contested by Palestinians, with Hamas threatening rocket attacks and some in the international community condemning it as a provocative move.
Israeli officials and politicians attempted to speak of Israel’s eternal right to its capital as it celebrated the 55th year since Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan during the Six Day War.
It was a victory that placed the Old City and its Western Wall in Jewish hands for the first time since the fall of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago.
Clashes at Israel's Jerusalem Day flag march
However, videos of extreme right-wing participants in the march and in the day’s festivities made it difficult to focus on the larger issues of Jewish sovereignty over the capital city.
In the evening, Bennett’s office clarified that the prime minister had “directed the security forces, especially the Israel Police, to show zero tolerance for violence or provocations by extremist elements – among them La Familia – in Jerusalem.”
“The overwhelming majority of participants have come to celebrate, but unfortunately there is a minority that has come to set the area ablaze, take advantage of the government’s strong position against Hamas threats and trying to use force in order to ignite a conflict.
“Therefore, all incidents of violence will be dealt with severely including prosecution,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, “We reserve the right of the Jews to march to the Western Wall and celebrate Jerusalem Day. And I call for it to be done as respectfully as possible.”
He stressed, “We will not allow provocations and we will not allow any harm to our sovereignty and the security of our citizens and we will respond forcefully to terrorism and violence if necessary.”
"On Jerusalem Day we mark not only the unity of our capital but also the unity of our people."Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
Later, at a ceremony at Ammunition Hill, Bennett swore, “We will never give up on the unity of Jerusalem and we will never give up on the unity of the Jewish people.”
At the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, President Isaac Herzog warned against baseless hatred, explaining that it was that kind of animosity that had helped destroy Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and if the Jewish people were not careful, history would repeat itself.
“Baseless hatred destroyed Jerusalem. And if we are not careful, it will destroy it again, and not Jerusalem alone,” Herzog said.
“We must all behave responsibly. The good of the whole nation and the State of Israel must be above all,” the president said.
No one asked those who sacrificed their lives to liberate Jerusalem 55 years ago what their “political opinions were, whether or not they wore a kippa, and what kippa exactly.”
He emphasized that “Israeli unity is sacred. We must safeguard and strengthen it. We must fight hatred and factionalism, and we must not boycott even those who think differently from us.
“We, all of us, must respect the symbols of the sovereign and independent State of Israel, which we dreamed about for millennia,” Herzog stated.•
Anna Ahrornheim contributed to this report.