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January 4, 2017 6:18 am

Unfree Speech on the Temple Mount

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikipedia.

Having taught the history of freedom of speech in the United States for 45 years to college students at Brandeis and Wellesley I retain a residual fondness for it. Admittedly, the very idea seems abhorrent to the current student generation, preoccupied with politically correct “safe spaces,” where they need not see or hear, no less think about, words or names that displease them. Indeed, to confront a college building named after John C. Calhoun (Yale) or Woodrow Wilson (Princeton), or even a fashionably offensive nickname (Lord Jeff, Amherst), incites this politically correct generation to embrace censorship.

They might be comforted to learn that Islamic authorities on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are their partners in repression. Several days ago a (multi-faith) group of UCLA students was enjoying a guided tour of the Mount, site of the ancient Jewish Temples and revered by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, crowned by the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Their guide was Dr. Gabriel Barkay, an Israeli archeologist renowned for his discovery of silver-scroll amulets containing the priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers, the oldest biblical inscription yet retrieved (dating from 600 BCE). A decade ago, he co-founded the Temple Mount Sifting Project to salvage archaeological artifacts from tons of earth illegally removed from the Mount by the Muslim Waqf, always eager to obliterate the very Jewish presence that Dr. Barkay’s expertise has documented and preserved.

Explaining Temple Mount history to the students, Dr. Barkay understandably referred, several times, to the “Temple Mount.” Whereupon he was interrupted by a Waqf guard, wearing a jacket patch identifying him as “Guard of the Alaqsa Mosque,” who bluntly instructed him not to again refer to the “Temple Mount.” Continuing his historical survey through the Byzantine period, predating the Muslim conquest, Dr. Barkay once again mentioned the Temple Mount.

Two Waqf guards interrupted his presentation and accompanied him to Israeli police officers nearby to demand his eviction from the Mount. The police declined, but suggested to Barkay that he refrain from further identification of the Temple Mount as the Temple Mount. He obliged by referring to it for the duration of his guided tour as “TM.” One of the UCLA group members, who understandably found the incident “unsettling,” grasped the deeper meaning of the censorship: the Waqf guard was saying, in effect, that “the Jewish people don’t have a connection to the land.” Indeed.

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Compared to some of the issues I invited my own students to confront – hate speech, pornography and falsely shouting fire in a crowded theatre (to cite Justice Holmes’ memorable example of unprotected speech) – the Temple Mount encounter with censorship was – they might have said – “a no-brainer.” To say “Temple Mount” on the Temple Mount is equivalent to saying, “It’s raining” – when it is raining.

But once censorship becomes legitimate, there is no end to the ensuing folly — or consequent danger to freedom of thought, no less than speech. In addition to their history lesson from a superb archaeology teacher, the UCLA students learned another valuable – if unanticipated – lesson on the Temple Mount. Perhaps they will even find ways to enlighten their contemporaries on other American campuses about the true meaning of a liberal education: learning history, not learning to suppress it.

Jerold S. Auerbach is Professor Emeritus of History, Wellesley College.

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