Every year Shalom Achshav holds a memorial to mark the anniversary of the murder on Feb. 10, 1983 of one of its activists, Emil Grunzweig, by a right-wing extremist. This year’s ceremony took place in the midst of a high-stakes election campaign and at a time when ugly new waves of extremism are rolling through the Israeli political landscape. But this year’s event was special for a more positive reason as well. It marked the launch of the Emil Grunzweig Fellowship, a new Shalom Achshav initiative to bring more Israeli youth into the peace camp.
Funded by Canadian Friends of Peace Now, the Fellowship is awarded to student activists who have shown leadership in peace and democracy building and are committed to continuing this important work. Recipients give talks, form discussion groups and engage in other such activities on university campuses to increase support for the two-state solution among their peers.
The first recipients of the new award are Adi Berkovich, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Naor Ben Evgi, from Ben Gurion University. Adi is in her third and final year of her B.A. in sociology, while Naor is in his second year in software engineering. Both were chosen because of their personal dynamism, their demonstrated ability to influence others.
As part of the fellowship launch, Adi gave a keynote address during the Emil Grunzweig memorial, held near the site where he was killed, across the street from the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Using excerpts from the testimony of one of the participants of the fateful 1983 demonstration, Adi vividly recounted the events of that horrific day.
Grunzweig met his death when a militant ultra-nationalist lobbed a grenade into the peaceful Shalom Achshav crowd. But other casualties resulted from this terrorist incident as well, and the violence was not confined to that perpetrated by a lone attacker. In fact, as soon as the demonstration left Zion Square in Jerusalem, organized groups of counter protesters assailed the peace marchers with ugly taunts and threats, and also blows. The marchers refused to be drawn into a brawl, proceeding on to the square opposite the Prime Minister’s residence to call for compromise with the Palestinians. And then the air was rent by a sickening explosion. Emil was instantly killed. Nine others suffered severe injuries.
One of the most chilling passages of Adi’s speech was the reference to Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was on the scene at that same demonstration, inciting his followers to violence. Adi quoted the eye-witness, Shulamit Hareven, who said:
“Rabbi Kahane…I see him…he is now inciting his men and shouting that the marchers are traitors, a knife in the back of the people.”
Fast forward from 1983 to 2019. Shortly after Adi Bercovitch gave her speech warning of the horrors of right-wing fanaticism, Prime Minister Netanyahu brokered a deal that could potentially bring Kahane’s disciples into the Knesset. With Netanyahu’s help, the Kahanists have merged with other far rightists and this new party has been promised important cabinet positions should Netanyahu form the next government.
In the face of Israel’s rising right-wing tide, Shalom Achshav continues to be a voice of reason, moderation and hope. The movement tirelessly spreads its message that the only way to ensure a secure, peaceful, democratic Israel is through a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. Adi Bercovitch and Naor Ben Evgi are examples of a new generation that is taking up the torch Emil Grunzweig was so cruelly forced to drop.