Israel’s Best PR Strategy on the Temple Mount: Tell the Truth
In a fully rational world, it should be obvious to any observer who honestly seeks moral clarity, that when it comes to the Temple Mount, the side that seeks to visit and pray in peace and also allows full religious freedom to the other is in the right, while the side that reacts with violence and seeks to bar the other from prayer is in the wrong.
But in the real world’s cacophony of nonsense and ethical confusion, it is clear that Israel needs to forcefully, clearly, and, most importantly, publicly articulate its position to the world.
Failure to do so allows bigots and those seeking to harness bigotry to demonize Israel, arouse violence, inflame antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, and work to derail Israel’s budding diplomacy with its Arab neighbors.
To prevail, Israel’s message must be clear: the Jewish people’s ties to the Temple Mount are an undeniable historical fact. Israel wants peace, tolerance, and religious freedom, while those who stash rocks, pipes, bottles, and weapons and engage in violent rioting are the ones who are truly desecrating the site.
It is undeniable that since Islam’s conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century CE, the mosque that they built on the site of the Jewish Holy of Holies has become a Muslim holy site. No one is seeking to undermine this. However, it is also equally undeniable that the site has been holy to the Jewish people for centuries before Islam ever existed. Therefore, every discussion to follow must be based upon the solid understanding that the site is indeed holy to both Muslims and Jews.
The calumny that Israel wants to seize the Al-Aqsa Mosque has cynically been used for political purposes, with Hamas, Palestinian Authority (PA), and Arab leaders inciting violence and hatred over peaceful Jewish worship. Their rhetoric utilizes blatant religious bigotry, clearly aimed at incitement.
For instance, in a 2015 speech, the ostensibly moderate PA leader Mahmoud Abbas proclaimed: “The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours … and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem. … We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing.”
This position is not unique to extremist non-state militants. Just last week, the Arab League called to end Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, stating “Al-Aqsa and Haram al-Sharif in all its area is a sole place of worship for Muslims,” and the UAE, a member of the Abraham Accords coalition, canceled participation in a planned Israel Independence Day flyover due to the Temple Mount riots.
If Israel is “Judaizing” the Temple Mount, it is certainly taking its sweet time, and going about it all wrong. In reality, Israel took control of the Temple Mount in a defensive war, after imploring Jordan not to attack. Upon its military victory, Israel then gave control over the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf. There is no historical precedent in which a military victorious country made such a concession to a vanquished foe. One might have expected that the world would credit Israel for its tolerance.
But the opposite has happened.
Today, the concepts of human rights, dignity, equality, and tolerance are thankfully considered to be paramount in most of the world. The demand to bar only Jewish worship at a site that is sacred to multiple religions is akin to the worst examples of segregation.
Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount are not guilty of disrupting Muslim prayer. They are not the ones rioting, shouting, burning tires, throwing rocks, or even murdering worshippers. Indeed, neither Jews nor Israel even consider asking to ban Muslim worshipers from the holy site. While most controversial issues are some shade of gray, this is one of the most black and white ethical dilemmas. Jews want to pray and let Muslims pray. Those manufacturing a crisis want the Jews banned, period.
Unfortunately, many international leaders and the international media automatically blame Israel — and thus, peaceful Jewish worship — for tensions. Even the State Department called upon Israel to defuse tensions caused by Arab rioting on the Temple Mount. It is amazing that this centuries-old excuse for violence still bears weight.
Today, Israel cannot allow bigots to control the narrative around the Temple Mount, and it is high time that its leaders get out in front with a well-articulated explanation. While many Jews and Israeli officials have made this case, the audience cannot be either those who agree with Israel’s position, or those predetermined to oppose it.
Rather, the Israeli leadership must make an articulate, public, and unapologetic case to its Arab neighbors and the world that it respects religious freedom, demands that same respect, and that it is those perpetrating violence who are truly desecrating this holy site. This action is urgently needed, not just to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, but to save the hopeful promise of the Abraham Accords.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.