Archive: Binyamin Netanyahu on Jerusalem Day (Image credit: Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office of Israel)
Open Letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the 50th Anniversary of Jerusalem Day - Why No Real Public Holiday?
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,
In the Torah reading Behar – Bechukosai, instructions were given (Chapter XXVII Verse 17) as to the procedure that occurred in the Yovel (Jubilee Year). Today there is no king in Israel but there is a substitute – the president of the State. This year we also celebrated a Jubilee – the complete liberation of our Holy City Jerusalem from foreign occupancy and the return 50 years ago of the place of the Holy Temple after 2,000 years. Yet instead of making this day a special celebration as it was the Jubilee, it was celebrated much the same way as was done in the past years. It should not have been low key. It should have been raised to the highest level to show the world that we had returned to the cradle of our heritage and take pride and joy in our achievement.
In the UK on the 50th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe following WWII) on May 8, 1995, the British government marked the occasion as a national public holiday. A special service of remembrance and thanksgiving was held in the major religious places of worship in London, as well as a Royal Air Force fly past over Buckingham Palace and local parades throughout the land – a significant day to remember in one’s life.
Here in Israel, the celebration of the Jubilee of the liberation of the Holy City had none of the special trappings like the UK celebration. As Mark Twain stated in 1880, “Jerusalem is the stateliest name in history,” yet your government failed to make this a memorable celebration, unlike how the UK celebrated the Jubilee of VE day. The least that one would have expected was it being properly celebrated as a national public holiday with special events; a national service of thanksgiving attended by the president, all the government and public officials, the IDF, the chief religious leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish dignitaries (not celebrities), and diplomats; a special military parade in the streets of Jerusalem (the last one being held on Yom Haatzmut in 1966 with full weaponry, not the subdued one of 1967) including the participation of the thousands of Jews from the Diaspora who made the sacrifice, volunteering to help Israel in 1967 while the world turned its back on the beleaguered country; a special fly past by the IAF; and national parties. Instead, we got nothing from you. It was a normal working day in most of the country albeit an optional day off, and even in Jerusalem the Jewish schools were not closed! What real lack of self and national pride the government of Israel, with you as leader, showed to this “stateliest of cities.”
With all the pomp and ceremony laid on for the 36-hour visit of the U.S. president the previous day, where was the national pride of the Jewish People during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem after 2,000 years of yearning and prayer by the Jewish people? Your words uttered to the U.S. president, and subsequently on Jerusalem Day, were sound bites. They echo empty in the world which chose to ignore the city’s liberation. But had you, the cabinet, and the bureaucrats of the civil service had both the foresight and dignity to follow a similar pattern to the UK’s celebration of the Jubilee of VE day, the world would have respected and responded to the Jewish return to Zion.
In 1967 when Israel was besieged by enemies all around and the international community was reluctant to take any action, young Jews from the Diaspora volunteered to come to Israel to help the country in the time of its greatest need. Some came before the Six Day War commenced, many more came after and some who volunteered were thanked for their efforts but were advised they were not required. They all made a great personal sacrifice at the time, abandoning their studies or jobs, families and possible careers. Some who volunteered stayed on, others after six or 12 months went back, but some 50 years later, in this Jubilee year, your government has not made any recognition of the sacrifice the volunteers made. Most of them are over 70, but I am sure they have not forgotten their efforts for the Jewish State in the time of its need though the state has forgotten them. Why was there no reunion convention organized during which today’s younger generation could be made aware of these volunteers? Why did the government on this poignant anniversary not grant those who still live in the Diaspora honoree citizenship with a free all expenses paid holiday to Israel this year; for those who remained in the country, special concessions ranging from free travel, tax concessions, priority in public services, similar to what the government has initiated to those citizens over 80 years old, and special security clearance (so they don’t have the hassle and harassment meted out by those responsible for security both nationally and publically – the latter would be especially appropriate because as the years pass such inconvenience suffered becomes both insulting and humiliating). The failure to act on this matter will go down in history as a slap in the face of these volunteers by you personally.
On Jerusalem Day, 1,800 veteran soldiers who fought in the battle for Jerusalem 50 years ago received a medal at Ammunition Hill as did bereaved families who lost a family member in the liberation of the city. Yet the volunteers from the Diaspora were ignored at that event and at the “happening” which you attended with the president and selected members of the public – it had none of the trappings of a state event but was a pure low level entertainment occasion catering to the lowest common denominator of Israeli society.
Sincerely, Kol Haam