On the first night of Hanukkah, President Isaac Herzog—a former leader of the Labor party—visited the city of Hebron to take part in a public menorah lighting at the cave of the Machpelah, traditionally held to be the resting place of the biblical matriarchs and patriarchs. Because Hebron was occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967, and because its Jewish population tends toward the Zionist religious right, the move was roundly condemned by left-wing Israeli leaders, and their criticisms echoed in the Western media. Jerold Auerbach comments offers some context:
Currently, 700 Hebron Jews inhabit a tiny, enclosed, and shabby neighborhood surrounded by 200,000 Muslims in the modernized and prosperous Arab sector. Indeed, Jews are outnumbered by Arabs in their own constricted quarter. The notion that Hebron Arabs live under the rule of Jewish “settlers” is a striking demonstration of ignorance and bias.
The millennia-old Hebron Jewish community was destroyed in 1929 by Arab rioters who rampaged through the Jewish Quarter, savagely murdering men, women, and children because they were Jews. Three children under the age of five were slaughtered, one of whom had his head torn off. Teenage girls, mothers, and grandmothers were raped. Yeshiva students had their throats slit. Sixty-seven Jews were brutally murdered; six synagogues were desecrated; dozens of Torah scrolls were mutilated. Not until Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War nearly four decades later did Jews begin to return to live in their ancient holy city.
The irrefutable facts of Jewish history affirm Herzog’s choice of the Machpelah burial site to light the first Hanukkah candle.