Rightists, leftists square off in east Jerusalem

4 arrested in Sheikh Jarrah after demos outside Shepherd Hotel where Huckabee attends reception.

Shepherd Hotel protesters 248.88 (photo credit: Laura Weisman)
Shepherd Hotel protesters 248.88
(photo credit: Laura Weisman)
Dozens of right- and left-wing activists squared off outside the Shepherd Hotel on Monday evening as past and future US presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, joined by a number of MKs, attended a private reception inside the compound, which has become a central point of contention between the American administration and Israel over Jewish building rights in the annexed parts of the capital. Huckabee, who is focusing his current tour of Israel on visits to east Jerusalem and the West Bank and meetings with settler leaders, has positioned himself in direct opposition to US President Barack Obama and his administration's demands that Israel halt all construction over the Green Line. "It concerns me when there are some in the United States who would want to tell Israel that it cannot allow people to live in their own country, wherever they want," Huckabee had told reporters earlier in the day. While the reception at the hotel was closed to the press and Huckabee made no formal statement, his participation was widely seen as an endorsement of plans by the Ateret Cohanim organization to build housing units at the site, which was purchased in 1985 by American tycoon Irving Moskowitz and was once home to the pro-Nazi mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. The US has called on Israel to suspend the building plans, as part of a larger demand for a freeze of all Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. On Monday evening, left-wing protesters outside the gated compound heckled Huckabee as he arrived, yelling at him, "Go Home!" and "Racist!" while a contingent of right-wing activists, separated from their left-wing counterparts by border policemen and police officers, waved Israeli flags and blasted "Hatikva" through a bullhorn. Members of the left-wing camp said they had come in the name of peace, and that the nearly 100 guests at the reception were fomenting violence and continued strife in the capital. "They don't want peace," said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, who works with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. "They are full of hatred and teach their children to hate. It's very far away from Judaism." The right-wing protesters, however, said they were defending Jewish rights in the capital and would not allow the leftists to "promote the division of Jerusalem" without having their say. "We're here to represent the majority of Israelis, who believe that Jerusalem should not be divided," said Amit Barak. Members of his university student organization, Im Tirtzu, were outside the hotel to support Huckabee and counter the left-wingers who had congregated nearby. "If you look at the [left-wing protesters], you'll see that many of them are foreign, anti-Semitic international activists or older Israelis, calling for the division of Jerusalem," Barak said. "We, on the other hand, are the youth of this country, and we want our voices to be heard." Lawmakers who attended the reception were also supportive of plans to build at the hotel site, along with other Jewish construction projects in east Jerusalem. "Today, in 2009, it's about time that the world knows that the Jewish people will not divide Jerusalem," MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) told reporters outside the hotel. "Jerusalem will stay and remain undivided and united." As the event concluded, left-wing demonstrators again heckled guests from the reception, and they broke into an uproar when Huckabee was seen departing from the hotel. "Racist pigs!" the crowd shouted at Huckabee's entourage, drawing a heated reply from the right-wing protesters. "You have killed Jews and are leftist traitors!" they yelled back. While police were able to keep the sides separated, the two groups clashed later when both walked down to the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where two Arab families were evicted from their homes over two weeks ago after a court allowed their Jewish owners to move in. According to police, three Jews and one Arab were arrested during disturbances near the homes about an hour after the crowds had left the Shepherd Hotel. No injuries were reported, and police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said that quiet had been restored to the area just before 10 p.m.