Given that the new Israeli government was being pilloried from all sides before it had even been sworn in, it was not surprising that the knives were out after the new Zionist bogeyman, Itamar Ben-Gvir, had the temerity to visit the holiest site in Judaism.
The New York Times, which loves to add pejorative descriptors to Israelis, headlined its story, “Hard-Line Israeli Minister Visits Volatile Jerusalem Holy Site.” Not only is Ben-Gvir “hardline,” but according to the Times, he is also an “ultranationalist.” His visit was “provocative” because he defied threats from the “militant” (never “terrorist”) group Hamas. Even worse, apparently, the Palestinian “foreign ministry” (how does a non-state have a foreign ministry?) called Ben-Gvir’s visit a “flagrant attack.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of conflict with Israel if it changes the status of the “Jerusalem holy site” and his Foreign Ministry (at least Jordan is a state) condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit.
After the fact, Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el predicted the downfall of the Palestinian Authority (hardly a tragedy for Israel), paroxysms of violence (none of which occurred), Netanyahu losing control of his government’s foreign policy (utter nonsense) and the end of the Abraham Accords (which have already survived much worse).
The Times acknowledged that Jews are permitted to visit the Temple Mount, but in one of its typical revisions of history, said, “Ariel Sharon, then leader of the opposition, surrounded by hundreds of police officers in riot gear, was widely credited as a factor that set off the deadly second Palestinian intifada.”
Facts don’t matter to Israel’s detractors, but it’s worth pointing out that the status quo on the site allows Jews to ascend the Temple Mount. Ben-Gvir, who spent 15 minutes there, did not violate any law or tradition and provoked no violence. Israel has not infringed and will not infringe on the rights of others to ascend the Mount or practice their faith.
Moreover, the site is part of Israel’s sovereign capital, and no country has any business dictating what Israel can and cannot do there, regardless of its sanctity. This includes the United States, which has no more right to tell Israel who can visit the Temple Mount than Israel has to set visitation policies for memorials in Washington, D.C.
Jordan has asserted that it has the sole right to make decisions regarding the Temple Mount, but there is no legal basis for this. The Times refers to Jordan’s “custodianship” of the site as if it were benign. Yet Jordan occupied the Old City, and with it the Mount, for 19 years and denied Jews and Christians access to their holy places (and desecrated Jewish shrines) without any opposition from those feigning interest in freedom of religion and the status quo.
The State Department offered its usual one-sided boilerplate opinions about preserving the two-state solution and avoiding unilateral actions that “exacerbate tensions.” Echoing the Times’ rewriting of history, Spokesperson Ned Price validated the false claim of a reporter who said, “Ariel Sharon stormed Haram Sharif and launched one of the most violent episodes in Palestinian-Israeli history.”
Both the Times and State ignore the central facts that led to the so-called “Al-Aqsa intifada,” or more accurately, the Palestinian War.
Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami permitted Sharon to go to the Temple Mount only after receiving assurances from Palestinian security chief Jibril Rajoub that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. Like Ben-Gvir, Sharon did not enter any mosques and visited the site during permitted hours.
Imad Faluji, the Palestinian Authority communications minister, later admitted that the intifada had been planned months earlier after Yasser Arafat’s return from peace talks at Camp David, where he rejected Israel’s offer of statehood. This was confirmed by Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar, who said Arafat instructed his organization to launch terror attacks against Israel after the failure of peace negotiations. Arafat’s widow, Suha, confessed that her husband had told her, “‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada.’”
An investigatory committee led by former Sen. George Mitchell examined the cause of the violence and concluded: “The Sharon visit did not cause the ‘Al-Aqsa Intifada.’”
Distorting history is bad enough. The Biden administration’s justification of violence against Jews is worse. The message the State Department should send to Jordan, the Gulf states, Egypt and the Palestinians is that it is unconscionable for Israel to be threatened with violence because it allows Jews to exercise their legal, moral and religious right to visit the place where the Jewish Temples stood centuries before Islam existed. Those who threaten such violence are the parties endangering the status quo and peace.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”