The Real Meaning of Denying the Jerusalem Flag March

Israel Harel
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People wave Israeli flags during the Flag March in Jerusalem, Tuesday.
Israel Harel

Unlike in “normal” years, this week, due to the need to preserve the government’s unity, the usual fierce opposition to the Flag March declined. Many who opposed it in the past showed understanding, and some, surprisingly, even used a rightist argument – Hamas must not be allowed to dictate what Israel may or may not do in its capital.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, from whom devout opponents of the march prayed for salvation, announced that to him, it was simply another demonstration. And the right to demonstrate, as everyone knows, is the life’s breath of democracy. Indeed, upon hearing the word that during the months of demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence morphed from a democratic right into an act enjoying divine protection, the intensity of the opposition abated.

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But the Flag March, Bar-Lev, is a national event, not a demonstration. And you are a veteran of the Labor movement and the son of Lt. Gen. Haim Bar-Lev (who despite a hail of sniper fire ran with the paratroopers – while he was deputy chief of staff – to have the privilege of being among the first to capture the Temple Mount). The fact that you see the national act of the Flag March as a demonstration proves how far the movement’s national approach has deteriorated.

In the past, its members were the ones who revived national ceremonies. As evidence, see the mass events on national holidays such as Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot, the Independence Day parades and, for all the obvious differences, the May Day parades.

During the early years of the Flag March, members of the pioneering youth movements took part. In one of his rhyming columns in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Haim Hefer urged members of these movements to show the public that they loved Jerusalem no less than members of the religious youth movement Bnei Akiva did, and that they could bring more marchers to the capital’s streets than Bnei Akiva could.

But Hefer’s plea, like the efforts by the leaders of these movements in practice, didn’t bear fruit. This decline coincided with the fading of the kibbutz movements and the disappearance of the Mapai, Mapam and Ahdut Ha’avoda parties, with which the three main kibbutz movements were affiliated.

After the Six-Day War of 1967, the first person to call for the mass settlement of Judea and Samaria was Yitzhak Tabenkin, leader of the United Kibbutz Movement. The leaders of the Land of Israel Movement, including Natan Alterman, Moshe Shamir and Benny Marshak, were members of the workers’ parties.

But most of the people who answered their call, surprisingly, turned out to be religious Zionists. It’s not just socialism that the Labor movement abandoned; it also started abandoning fulfilling efforts at pioneering settlement.

The result is that today there is virtually no real kibbutz movement. There are small communities that falsely call themselves “kibbutzim,” which gives them control over national lands, national waters and all the other privileges they have, including preferential financial rewards.

And when the torch of national mission changed hands, the people who dropped it developed opposition that, in time, even turned into hatred for those who continued to carry the torch superbly.

When Zionist socialist ideology waned, so did the feelings of pride, and even of national belonging. It’s no wonder that a basic national act like a parade of people carrying the national flag is viewed as a harmful, provocative and even dangerous nationalist act.

This mode of thought has also crept into all the security agencies (the same ones that promoted the doctrine of containment that let Hezbollah and Hamas amass the incredible power that has created a balance of deterrence). This week as well, on the eve of the Flag March, former senior officials from the army, the Shin Bet security service and the police all warned against the severe ramifications of the march.

And if even the mighty have fallen, what can we expect from the weak?

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