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December 20, 2022 11:58 am
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Israel Can’t Allow Bigots to Control the Narrative on the Temple Mount

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avatar by Jeremiah Rozman

Opinion

Jewish visitors gesture as Israeli security forces secure the area at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 5, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

In a fully rational world, it should be obvious to any observer who honestly seeks moral clarity, that at a religious site sacred to multiple religions, the side that seeks to visit and pray in peace and also allows full religious freedom to the other is in the right — and 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 noise and ethical confusion, it is clear that Israel needs to forcefully, clearly, and, most importantly, publicly articulate its position to the world.

The 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.

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. Therefore, this site has been holy to Muslims for well over a millennium. 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, and that the Jewish people never abandoned this belief. Therefore, every discussion to follow must be based upon the solid understanding that the site is indeed holy to both Muslims and Jews.

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The argument that Israel wants to take sole control over this or other holy sites is thoroughly disingenuous, and has cynically been used for political purposes, with Hamas, the 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. Every martyr [Shahid] will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.”

This position is not unique to extremist non-state militants. Just this month, the Arab League called for an end to 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 party to the Abraham Accords, canceled participation in a planned Israel Independence Day flyover due to the Temple Mount riots.

The trope that Jews are trying to seize and desecrate Muslim holy sites — “Judaizing the Temple Mount”– has been used to foment violence since the 1920s. If Israel is “Judaizing” the Temple Mount, it is certainly taking its sweet time. One might even argue that Israel is going about it all wrong.

For instance, when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they did not work out a deal by which Eastern Orthodox clerics and Byzantine authorities retained control over the Hagia Sophia. They just conquered it and converted it into a mosque. Israel by contrast won 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 militarily victorious country made such a concession to a vanquished foe. One might have expected that the world would credit Israel for its tolerance.

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 worshipers 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 worshipers. Indeed, neither Jews nor Israel even consider banning Muslim worshipers from the holy site.

While most controversial issues in the Middle East have 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 outlets automatically blame Israel and thus, peaceful Jewish worship, for the tension. Even the US 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.

Israel cannot allow bigots to control the narrative around the Temple Mount, and it is high time its leaders get out in front with a well-articulated explanation. While many Jews and Israeli officials have made this case, Israel’s 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 explains that it is those perpetrating violence who are truly desecrating this holy site. This is urgently needed, not just to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, but to save the hopeful promise of the Abraham Accords.

Jeremiah Rozman is a publishing Adjunct at The MirYam Institute. From 2006-2009 he served as an infantryman in the IDF. He is currently a Second Lieutenant in the US Army.

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.

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