Two hundred meters from Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour’s wedding celebration in the Shemesh Aduma (Red Sun) wedding hall in the industrial area of Rishon Letzion, lined with supermarkets and other events halls, a counter demonstration was held by the Lehava organization – a demonstration of pure hatred. The hatred oozed from the looks of the protestors, dripped with their sweat, passed in the screams and the poisoned air.
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Some 200 people from Lehava (a Hebrew acronym for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land,” meaning “flame” in Hebrew) came to try to destroy the couple’s happiness, a large number in shirts saying “Lehava – the Jewish Honor Guard.”
“Ahmed Tibi is dead,” they screamed, “Mohammed is dead,” “Death to Arabs.”
“Everyone knows the truth, but don’t given them reasons for an indictment,” one of the demonstration’s organizers tried to calm people. But the crowd never stopped abusing the air.
When someone started calling “Death to Leftists,” one of the organizers tried to cover it with “Leftists are Jews.” But the man next to me explained: “The leftists are worse than the Arabs. They are a mixed multitude,” and earned respect.
Toward the end of the demonstration, the matter of the wedding was forgotten and only the intermixed “Death to Arabs” and “Death to Leftists” remained. That’s the problem with extremism. There is always someone who outflanks you, faster and more sophisticated. If once the Yad L’Achim organization set the tone, then Benzi Gopstein from Lehava – who is far more media savvy – stole the show from them. And now Gopstein is the sign of moderation, the responsible adult who is trying to calm the calls to kill Arabs, so as to emphasize the original idea of the protest.
“The people of Israel are responsible for one another, we are not a people for all the peoples,” said the organizers – and suddenly a vehicle playing Hassidic music arrives, it’s not clear from where. Many of the young people abandon Gopstein and Itamar Ben Gvir, the learned attorney for Lehava, and dance on the side, leaving him with the sign “Our teacher Moses is crying.” He is speaking in front of the Rishon Letzion veterinary institute about the Arab village where Mansour will take Malka, even though Mohammed is really Mahmoud and lives in Jaffa – which is not a village.
Israel Harel in a stylish gray hat, it seems with a shofar [ram’s horn trumpet] in his hand, talks about how there can be miracles and reminds us of the miracles during the war.
“Because of weddings like this [there are] all the problems in the war,” says someone next to me. It is hard to understand what Harel is saying since someone is banging away crazily with a bottle of water.
Gopstein wants to calm the flames of hatred. “Everyone wants for us to say Mohammed is dead,” he says, and tries to tell them “but we will not let them.” But next to him they are screaming “and that is what we’ll do.” Gopstein and Ben Gvir also talk about Mohammed the groom. When somebody corrects them, Gopstein says “Mohammed, Mahmoud, it doesn’t matter.” And someone completes what he is saying, “All the same shit.”
One of the protestors, in a light purple shirt, explains to a foreign television crew: “It’s not racism. We simply fear that because of the assimilation we will become extinct. The Arabs do not want us alive so it is important that the Arabs go extinct and that we humiliate them.”
“Let them bring out an Arab woman who wants to marry a Jew, I want to see that,” said the man in the purple shirt, his eyes inflamed with disgust, as if they bring out and give away women in the industrial area of Rishon.
It is not just a demonstration of hate for Arabs or leftists, but also for modern women, who can do what they want. Facing the demonstrators, the organizers tried to keep a different tome: “Even if Morel converted to Islam she is still our sister, we don’t give up on a single Jew. A Jewish wedding should have been here. Soon the bride will come to dance with us here.”
A German reporter next to me looked like she was terrified and didn’t exactly understand what was going on. I was afraid too.
‘This is how you get girls’
The left’s counterprotest in support of the young couple was the exact opposite. If I was afraid at the right-wing demonstration, the dangerous part of the left-wing one was when I got stuck in a string of balloons. The demonstrators held flowers and laughed among themselves. A young man in a Labor Party shirt sang a Gidi Gov song: “My flower.” If men stood in the middle of the Lehava demonstration with a few young women around the edges, here the supporters of the wedding were mostly women. They all looked happy and loving.
“This is how you get girls,” said my friend Salim, an actor, who hugged a girl to take advantage of the romantic momentum.
“I’m not a racist,” Zion Malka from Ramat Gan told me, and showed me with a trembling hand his ID card with the same last name as that of the bride. He disagreed with the shouts of “Death to Arabs” and told me “For hundreds of years we maintained Judaism in Morocco under harsh conditions. Every Jew should feel pain when this happens. It is worse than the Holocaust.”
I told him I didn’t understand why we should get involved in the decisions of people who want to get married. He gave me a novel idea: “It’s like when vegetarians climb onto your plate.”
The masses continued to scream all the time: “An Arab is a son of a bitch” and “Haneen Zoabi is a whore.”
“Everyone knows what Haneen Zoabi is, but this is not the place,” the organizer tried again. A boy trying to act like a man next to me cursed everyone mentioned in horrible sexual descriptions, including the bride – on whose behalf everyone there wanted to ensure her welfare and innocence. Then Gopstein talked about the blessing President Reuven Rivlin gave the couple, one of the few courageous things about the whole event. Gopstein told Rivlin he should be embarrassed. The crowd cried out after him and repeated it – and Gopstein noted that Rivlin was elected because of Arab MKs such as Tibi.
A few girls who earlier had looked to me like they were nice and playful, wrapped in an Israeli flag, started calling “Leftist trash.” Someone tried to scare them, “The leftists want to push us into extermination like the Judenrat.”
The crowd remains excited, refuses to leave and slowly moves toward the wedding hall, every once in a while throwing firecrackers. The police detain a few demonstrators. The nice girls from before start calling out slogans at the left-wing protestors. The police try to save the separation between the protestors and the wedding, but it was not easy as they advanced and advanced.
Finally the protest ended, a few opponents of the wedding stood where the leftists had stood earlier and felt like they had captured a fortress. “I wish all the leftists pancreatic cancer,” a girl shouted.
A group of rightists stood on a higher position and proudly waited to spit on the leftists, while a car drove by the supermarket playing a trance track of “Mohammed is dead.”
After the police receive their sandwiches, they announce the end and clap hands; I walk to the train. Two young Lehava men ask me for the fare to Safed, and then hang up a sign: “I wanted a grandson, I got a shahid [martyr]” on a bridge over a noisy highway. One of them warns that the sign could fall from the bridge onto the road and cause an accident. The other tells him it will fall on an Arab car – what does it matter? The first says that in Rishon Letzion it will fall on a non-Arab car, and the second answers: “Don’t worry, the sign will fall on an Arab.”