Update: 15 activists were arrested this afternoon while protesting in Sheikh Jarrah, per Haaretz. Today, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:
J Street is deeply concerned by recent actions taken by Israeli authorities in response to protests and dissent in Jerusalem and the occupied territories. Last week, 17 political activists were illegally detained by police in Sheikh Jarrah, where growing numbers of Israeli and Palestinian activists are holding weekly protests against settler takeovers of long-time Palestinian family homes in East Jerusalem.
The Israeli courts have ruled the arrests illegal, yet authorities refused to grant permission for another protest rally today and a situation, possibly involving additional arrests, is currently unfolding. As J Street has stated before, this is hardly the time to open up the question of pre-1948 property ownership on either side of the Green Line, or to bring strident settler groups, such as Ateret Cohanim, to an East Jerusalem neighborhood that previous negotiations designated as part of a future Palestinian capital.
J Street stands together with the protesters in opposition to unilateral actions in East Jerusalem that only set back the chances for peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are an affront to traditional Jewish conceptions of justice and fairness. Equally troubling, the Director of Israel’s Religious Action Center, Anat Hoffman, was recently questioned by police, fingerprinted, and threatened with charges for the “crime” of leading a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall. And, just this week came troubling news reports that a Jewish-American journalist, employed by the US-funded Palestinian Maan news agency in the West Bank, was deported from Israel for his “anti-Israel” views, and that employees and volunteers for NGOs working on the West Bank are having work permits and visas denied on an increasing basis.
These and other actions paint a troubling picture of increasing intimidation of dissent and decreasing tolerance for free speech – trends that threaten Israel’s vibrant democracy. Some Israeli politicians may believe that these actions send a message of strength to those who would undermine the State of Israel. They do not. They simply weaken Israel’s standing as a democracy committed to free speech and civil rights. The core Jewish and democratic values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and embodied in its Law of Human Dignity are key to the strength of the US-Israel relationship and critical to Israel’s vital relationships with world Jewry. Weakening them weakens Israel. We stand in solidarity with all activists, Israeli and Palestinian, who are peacefully exercising their legitimate democratic rights. And we stand with our friends in Israel who are doing the hard, on-the-ground work, at great personal risk, of advocating for a strong and democratic Israel that is the national home for the Jewish people and enjoys a secure peace with its neighbors. For the sake of the security of Israel and for the sake of the soul of the Jewish people, we are with you.