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Walk like an Israeli

Why a Jew’s visit to the holiest Jewish site provokes outrage.

Otzma Yehudit Party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av, Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Otzma Yehudit Party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av, Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

Imagine if Pope Francis were to say: “Only Christians are permitted in the Vatican! No Muslims and no Jews!” The “international community” would be outraged. But the pontiff would never say that. Muslims and Jews are welcome in the Vatican.

Imagine if Israelis were to say: “Only Jews are permitted on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount! No Muslims and no Christians!” The “international community” would be outraged. But Israelis would never say that. Christians and Muslims are welcome on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred site, the place where two great Jewish temples were built and then destroyed by foreign empires.

Imagine if Palestinians, Jordanians and others were to say: “Only Muslims are permitted on Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site for Muslims, from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven!”

That is, in fact, what many Palestinians, Jordanians and others are saying, and the “international community” is outraged—at Israelis, for not accepting the discriminatory decree.

Do you know why the Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif occupy the same small hilltop in the first place? It’s because, in antiquity, imperialist conquerors—not just Muslims—commonly built atop the holy sites of those they conquered.

Today, however, the “international community” claims to value tolerance, diversity and inclusion. Does it? The Biden administration presents itself as a champion of those values. Is it?

“We are deeply concerned by the visit of the Israeli minister at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif,” declared U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “This visit has the potential of exacerbating tensions and leading to violence.” Whose tensions might be exacerbated, and why that might lead to violence, he didn’t say.

The Israeli minister to whom he was referring is Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party is a member of the coalition that has restored Benjamin Netanyahu to the premiership. Ben-Gvir is on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum, but that’s irrelevant here.

He’s an Israeli, a Jew and an official in a democratically elected government that has sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

At 7 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 3, he entered the compound, walked around for 13 minutes and then quietly departed. He did not approach—much less enter—the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is at the south end of the plaza.

Afterwards, he said that in his official capacity as national security minister he will ensure that Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to visit the site.

Nevertheless, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Mohamed Khaled Khiari called Ben-Gvir’s visit “particularly inflammatory.”

Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Kingdom of Jordan issued statements declaring that if blood spills, Israel will be to blame.

The Jordanian statement condemned “in the severest of terms” the “storming” of the Haram al-Sharif and the violation of the “sanctity” of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

When walking becomes storming based solely on the nationality, race, ethnicity and/or religion of the individual putting one foot in front of another, shouldn’t there be objections from members of the “international community” who claim to oppose discrimination?

Instead, however, the United Arab Emirates, in alliance with the People’s Republic of China, demanded that the U.N. Security Council hold an “emergency” meeting to discuss the presence of a Jew at Judaism’s holiest site.

The Emiratis—signatories of the Abraham Accords, establishing peaceful relations with Israel—doubtless want to be seen as defenders of Islam and Palestinians. They might ask themselves: Does endorsing an intolerant interpretation of Islam really benefit Muslims and Palestinians?

A few years ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that both the al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher—among the holiest of places for Christians—“are ours.” Jews, he added, “have no right to defile them with their filthy feet.” I’m guessing that didn’t persuade most Israelis to take “risks for peace.”

As for China’s rulers, they’re right now persecuting their Muslim subjects to the point of genocide. They’ve destroyed thousands of mosques in Xinjiang, homeland of the Uyghurs. Yet Beijing’s relations with Muslim-majority states remain cordial. Defaming Israel helps China’s rulers keep them that way.

If you’ve been reading about this brouhaha in most media, you’ve probably seen appeals to “preserve the historic status quo,” with little or no explanation of what that means. I’ll tell you.

After the flag of the British Empire in Jerusalem was lowered for the last time in 1948, Israelis declared their independence. They were immediately attacked by surrounding Arab nations.

Jordanian forces conquered and occupied eastern Jerusalem, from which they expelled all Jews. And they forbade Jews of any nationality—but not Israeli Arabs—from worshipping on the holy hilltop. And they destroyed or desecrated Jewish religious sites.

In the defensive Six-Day War of 1967, Israelis drove Jordanians out of eastern Jerusalem. But, as a conciliatory gesture, Israeli leaders agreed that a wakf, a Jordanian-controlled entity, would have religious authority over the compound, while Israelis would maintain security, keeping the holy sites open to all—though only Muslims would be allowed to pray there.

This status quo remains, but there is debate among Israelis about the prohibition on prayer by non-Muslims. In free countries, debate is not unusual. The countries attacking Israel— rhetorically and/or kinetically—choose to ignore this fact.

Antisemites cast Jews as pariahs. Today, they also cast the only surviving and thriving Jewish community in the Middle East as a pariah state.

Antisemitism is a mutating virus. Most Israelis have concluded that the modern variant cannot be treated—much less cured—by making additional concessions to those who despise them, along with those in the “international community” who aid and abet such hatred.

If you’re looking for a succinct explanation of why Israelis elected a right-wing coalition, there you have it.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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