Herzog's Hanukkah in Hebron is about tradition, not politics - comment

The Left is yet to internalize that if it wants to influence policy in Israel, it needs to win over the hearts and minds of mainstream Israel, not The Guardian or Columbia University.

President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

“Israel’s president to light Hanukkah menorah at Palestinian mosque in Hebron,” read a headline Friday in a UK-based website called the Middle East Eye.

There you have it. In one short headline, any Jewish connection to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Judaism’s second-holiest site by virtue of it being the plot of land that the Torah records Abraham buying to bury his wife, Sarah, is simply erased, replaced by the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Here they go again, those pesky Jews, wanting to pray in a mosque, just like some have the temerity to want to pray on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most holy site because both the First and Second Temples stood there.

According to the impression this headline leaves, President Isaac Herzog wanted to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah not by going to a synagogue or Jewish religious or historic site, but to a mosque. What a provocation by a presidential provocateur.

Or, as Hussein Al Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority’s head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs and a member of Fatah’s Central Committee tweeted, the visit is a “political, moral and religious provocation.”

View of the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 2, 2020.  (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)View of the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 2, 2020. (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

Hamas’s Ismai Radwan was even more strident, saying Israel would “bear full responsibility for the consequences of this attack,” and that the candle-lighting ceremony not only constitutes a provocation but also “a blatant desecration of the sanctity of the mosque.”

But Herzog is no provocateur. In fact, he comes from the Left of the Israeli political map, the side that was willing to withdraw from almost all of Hebron and hand it over to the Palestinians if they would have just given up some of their maximalist designs.

But that doesn’t mean that Herzog would have ceded the Jewish claim to Hebron, or to the Cave of the Patriarchs. To do that would be to cede any historical or religious claim to Israel.

Whatever one may think of what the contours of some future agreement with the Palestinians may look like, whatever one may think of the wisdom of or necessity of a Jewish settlement in the heart of Hebron, there is no denying that Jews have a claim there that goes back thousands of years, and have a right to pray and study and even light Hanukkah candles there.

Forget about Middle East Eye, a website with a strong anti-Israel slant. What is even more telling is that the argument essentially made by that headline – that Herzog has no right going to a Hebron – was picked up, articulated and amplified by far-left groups such as Peace Now and Breaking the Silence, which called for protests against the president’s visit, as well as by Meretz MK Michal Rozin

“The president should be a unifying personality,” Rozin tweeted. Israeli “rule in Hebron and the occupied territories, in particular is mired in the sharpest political controversy. Settlements in Hebron around the Cave are the most infuriating. It’s very sad that the president gives priority to this.”

In Rozin’s universe, the president should only go to places she feels comfortable with. Herzog, opined Haaretz, in a web headline to its lead editorial on Friday, “decided he wants to be the president of the settlements.”

Wrong. Herzog decided he wanted to light the first Hanukkah candle at a site that more than any other site represents the Jewish historical claim to Israel. To highlight that at a time when many are trying to paint the Jews in Israel – any part of Israel – as outside interlopers and settler colonialists is to be welcomed, not protested.

That the far Left is protesting the visit is just another manifestation, the second in less than a week, of how far they have distanced themselves from the Israeli mainstream.

The Israeli mainstream, no less than the Left, is appalled by violence perpetrated by some settlers in Hebron or elsewhere, but they also are equally appalled by efforts by the Left to paint all those who live beyond the Green Line as violent occupiers who should be removed.

The uproar against Herzog going to Hebron followed by less than a week a conference in the Knesset entitled “Stopping settler violence,” in which a far-left activist Haim Shadmi said it was time for those like him to take up arms to protect the Palestinians from the settlers.

“Give us the authority to use weapons,” he said. “We will do the work to protect the Palestinians.”

Those types of statements, as well as the leftist organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Peace Now saying it is illegitimate for Israel’s president to go to Hebron, distance themselves from the mainstream.

The Left is yet to internalize that if it wants to influence policy in Israel, it needs to win over the hearts and minds not of the editorial board of The Guardian or Columbia University’s student government body, but rather mainstream Israel. It doesn’t do that by advocating for Israelis to take up arms against their brothers, nor in denying the right of the president of the state to light a Hanukkah candle at the tomb of the nation’s patriarchs and matriarchs.