Meretz Retracts 'Publicity-motivated' Bill to Ban Jerusalem Day

Party MKs say legislation to abolish the national holiday, which they referred to as an 'occupation festival,' was a PR stunt.

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MK Issawi Freij (L) and MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz. February 11, 2014.
MK Issawi Freij (L) and MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz. February 11, 2014.Credit: Michal Fattal

Members of the Meretz Knesset faction withdrew their signatures from a bill calling for the abolition of Jerusalem Day as an official holiday.

Party officials admitted that the legislation had been introduced for publicity reasons only, and added that they had never intended to promote it in the Knesset.

Four of the faction members who had signed the bill — faction chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, and MKs Issawi Freij, Michal Rosin and Tamar Zandberg – contacted Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein two weeks ago and asked that their names be removed from the bill, and that it be shelved.

Faction sources confirmed these details for Haaretz, but no reaction was forthcoming from Freij, who originally introduced the bill and was even interviewed in the media about it.

“We never intended to table this bill. We only sought to use it as a declarative proposal. It was presented because of a mishap, so the Knesset members withdrew their signatures from it,” party officials said.

Meretz’s bill called for the abolition of the Jerusalem Day Law, which made Jerusalem Day a national holiday. The event was first observed in 1968, following government and Knesset decisions stating that the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar would be “a day of celebration for Jerusalem.”

The Knesset passed a private member’s bill, introduced by the late Hanan Porat in 1998, that accorded Jerusalem Day the status of a national holiday.

At the time Freij introduced the new legislation, he said: “With the passing of the years, Jerusalem Day has entrenched its status as the Israeli ‘occupation festival.’ It is not Jerusalem that the celebrants put 'above their greatest joys' [Psalm 137:6], but force, condescension and provocation.

"The most prominent and infuriating example of this," he noted, "is the ‘Flag Dance’ procession, which is nothing but a euphemism for a march of hatred and provocation by thousands of far-right activists inside the Arab neighborhoods — a march that often deteriorates into violence.”

In response to the Meretz decision, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat was quick to post a response on her Facebook page.

“I am happy to announce that in the wake of public criticism, Meretz has withdrawn its odd bill to abolish Jerusalem Day. We will continue putting Jerusalem above our greatest joys, and we will not let anyone even think of damaging the status of Israel’s eternal capital,” wrote Livnat, who led the protest against the legislation.

In the proposal’s explanatory notes, the four Meretz MKs expressed the concern that people would stop working on Jerusalem Day in the future, as right-wing officials demanded.

“Turning [Jerusalem Day] into a day off would place a heavy burden on the Israeli economy, just to make the nationalist celebrations throughout the eastern part of the city easier,” they wrote.

They also expressed a wish to return Jerusalem Day to its original, modest dimensions, as determined by Levi Eshkol’s government in 1968.

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