(February 22, 2018 / JNS) U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) no doubt anticipated an eye-opening experience when they visited the Temple Mount on Thursday as part of their current trip to Israel. So imagine their surprise when they were detained by Israel police after an Islamic Waqf official, which administers the Temple Mount, lodged a complaint against them.
It appears that they violated some unknown rule when Tipton bent down to pick up a broken olive branch off the ground. His movement seems to have agitated the Waqf official who, apparently believing that the congressman was bowing as if in prayer, set off the events that followed.
The congressmen, both in their 70s, were physically removed from the Temple Mount by police officers, and frisked and detained for more than a half-hour. They were released without incident.
Hosted by the American evangelical organization Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, as well as by Jaffe Strategies and its Yes! Israel Project, the politicians are on a fact-finding mission to explore their Judeo-Christian roots.
Speaking of the experience with JNS, Tipton said: “You know it was a little surprising. … We were going around and trying to take it all in and being rushed through, and I happened to pick up an olive branch, ironically a symbol of peace. Apparently, that broke a rule—not one that was defined. We had no forewarning going in of what to do and not to do, no instructions. … We were trying to take in what is obviously a religious site not only for Jews and Muslims, but for Christians as well. … Interestingly, apparently they viewed something as an infraction and then chose to detain us.”
McKinley said: “We should be able to pray and reflect on the history and culture, but you’re not allowed to do that as Jews and non-Muslims. You’re pushed, literally, and they have a time frame to get you through. That’s not right. That’s why the status quo has to change, to reflect the change in culture over the past 50 years.”
According to the congressmen, when they met afterwards with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and related the story, he apologized, saying “it shouldn’t have happened.”
Speaking of the meeting, Tipton said: “We continue to see Iran, [the] No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism, trying to expand their influence over into Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. We discussed serious issues, which we all need to make sure we understand, and the challenges we face. We want to be able to see peace in this area. … The prime minister, admirably, has a very specific understanding of the threats that are out there and ideas on how to best deal with them. … It was, overall, a very thoughtful and comprehensive discussion. He [Netanyahu] was very on-game.”
Asked about the U.S.-Israel relationship, Tipton said that “from a congressional point of view, particularly our caucus, it’s strong. I think it is bipartisan.”
Pointing to Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to a joint session of Congress, in which he urged the United States to seek a better deal with Iran, Tipton highlighted the reception he received and the “enthusiasm that was there for his clear vision.”
He said the Israeli prime minister, “probably better than anyone in the world, is able to lay it out in terms of the challenges that, collaboratively, we face, and that are going to be impacting our European allies as well. It is well-appreciated, and I think the support is there in Congress.”
McKinley added: “This is the foothold of democracy in the Middle East. And in some form, it protects Europe. So the whole issue of dealing with ballistic missiles, I think there are going to be some answers that come from Israel. It is bipartisan. [Netanyahu] is enormously well-respected.”
Referring to the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, McKinley felt that “more countries will follow. Part of it will be the optics of how quickly the U.S. fulfills its objective. I hope it can be done—even if it’s a temporary situation—make that position. Put your flag in the ground.”
Regarding Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Tipton said that “there is a very simple solution for Mr. Abbas. Recognize the right of Israel to be able to exist. If you’re going to be able to have a peaceful solution, it takes two willing parties to be able to work together. I think Israel has extended the hand for the opportunity to make sure that peace does exist.
“We’ve had the opportunity to visit with some of the local people,” he continued. “I think the sense is there. The leadership needs to get in tune. Ultimately, this has always been a sticking point. You have to be able to recognize the right of Israel to exist. If you refuse to do that, you’re making it very difficult to secure peace in the region.”
In addition to Netanyahu, the congressmen met with other Israeli officials. They also visited the Port of Ashdod on the Mediterranean, and further south, Sderot, a town that has been pummeled by rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza since 2001. They will also be touring Judea and Samaria to learn more about the importance of these areas in Jewish history, and more pressing, their significance in present-day reality.