Israeli Minister Benny Begin to speak at 'Jerusalem Day' events in London

Tuesday, 11 May, 2010 - 08:33
London, UK

A group of official and private British-Jewish organisations have jointly invited Benny Begin, the right wing Israeli government minister, to give the keynote address at ‘Yom Yerushalayim’ (Jerusalem Day) celebrations in London on 11 May.

The host organisations include the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Zionist Federation (ZF), Hendon United Synagogue, Ner Israel Community, “One Jerusalem” and the political group Likud-Herut UK.

In Israel, the annual ‘Yom Yerushalayim’ celebrations marking the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, or ‘the unification of the city,’ will be held this year on 11-12 May.

The day is celebrated by a central ceremony on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, a former military post and one of the sites of the harshest fighting in the battle over the city. Religious Jewish Israelis also hold ceremonies in synagogues throughout Israel and Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia hold ceremonies to commemorate Ethiopian Jews who died on their way to Israel.

The unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem shortly after its occupation by Israel is not recognised by the international community. In 1980 United Nations Resolution 478 denied Israel’s claim to East Jerusalem and instructed member states to withdraw their diplomats from the city. The UN Security Council, with U.S. support, declared the Israeli annexation of greater Jerusalem as “null and void.”

In December 2009, the EU repeated its position regarding the status of East Jerusalem and reminded European diplomats to avoid official dealings with Israeli government bodies in East Jerusalem.

Some members of London’s Jewish community have expressed surprise and outrage at the choice of speaker for this year’s celebrations. Minister Benny Begin, son of the late former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, is widely perceived to be a hard-liner with regard to the peace process and is a staunch champion of the settlements project both in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

The eminent Chicago-based Jewish historian and expert on Jerusalem, Professor Bernard Wasserstein, has said that he supports the right of Mr. Begin to speak, since he believes ‘in the right of free speech for anyone anywhere.’ However, he also questioned the prudence and the timing of the invitation.

At a moment when, after many months of foot-dragging by the Israeli government, peace talks are at last resuming, albeit indirectly, between Israel and the Palestinians, one might have hoped that British Jewry would invite a speaker who is in sympathy with the peace process, rather than one who has consistently sought to place roadblocks in its way and who is an open opponent of the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said in a message from New York on Monday.

“Unfortunately”, he added, “this invitation is of a piece with the generally blinkered outlook of the established bodies that claim to represent British Jewry. These organizations do not represent the Jewish community as a whole, large parts of which, particularly younger, secular, and better-educated elements, tend to have a much more enlightened view of Israel, and in particular of Israeli policies in the occupied territories.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews was asked to comment on the choice of speaker but no response has been received.

On Israel’s Independence Day last month, the Board’s President, Vivian Wineman, stressed Jerusalem’s place as the ‘eternal physical and spiritual capital of the Jewish people since time immemorial.’ On the Board’s website, he announced the launch of a ‘new Jerusalem history education campaign, Jerusalem—The Jewish Facts, that will look not to indoctrinate or to sow discord as some anti-Israel polemicists seek to do, but rather to educate with the simple, truthful historical facts.’

Members of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other organisations are to protest outside the Hendon United Synagogue celebrations at 7PM Tuesday May 11

A flyer advertising the celebration can be viewed at

For more information on the politics and positions of Minister Begin see the JNews Background Paper on the subject.

This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source.

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