After several exasperating decades, one of the thorniest and most painful issues on Israel’s public agenda may at last be heading toward a resolution. In a move underlining the national consensus regarding the Temple Mount, Likud MK Miri Regev and Labor MK Hilik Bar have reached across the aisle to prepare a joint bill that would allow Jews to pray at the nation’s holiest site.
The proposed law, which is slated to be submitted soon to the Knesset for approval, would right one of the most glaring wrongs on Israel’s human rights record. It would end discrimination against Jews who wish to commune with their Creator on the Mount without fear of arrest.
Don’t believe the media’s attempts to paint this bill as “controversial.” The only thing controversial about it is that there is a need for such a bill in the first place. Incredibly, despite Supreme Court rulings upholding the right of Jews to freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, the police have never – not once! – allowed this right to be exercised.
Instead, Jews who visit the Mount are subjected to humiliating restrictions designed to ensure that they do not pray. These include prohibitions on silently moving one’s lips, lest one clandestinely try to beseech God, or even bringing a Bible or prayer book to the site.
In recent months, several US congressmen visiting Israel under the auspices of the Yes to a Strong Israel! organization headed by the indefatigable Ruthie Lieberman have witnessed this discrimination firsthand.
Indeed, just last week, Rep. Andrew Harris (R-Maryland) and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida), toured the site accompanied by the Temple Institute’s Rabbi Chaim Richman. Speaking afterwards to reporters, Harris said, “I’m actually surprised that access is so limited and especially [by] the discrimination against Jews above any other religion in visits to the Temple Mount. It surprises me as an American, believing in religious freedom, that such conditions would exist.”
And yet they do, despite Israel’s ostensible commitment to freedom of worship.
In a scandalous act of submissiveness, the government has allowed the extremist Muslim Wakf to call the shots on the Temple Mount, where it thumbs its nose at Israel and its laws and denies Jews their basic rights.
But hopefully, that is about to change.
As Labor MK Hilik Bar, a solidly left-wing parliamentarian, put it: “I believe that coexistence between Arabs and Jews begins with full equality also on the Temple Mount.” Bar added that, “The Muslims must understand that we too have a right to prayer there. If someone on the Left has complaints against Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, it will be difficult for him tomorrow to speak out against harming the rights of other nations.”
Bar is absolutely correct, and he and Regev are to be commended for their bold stand on behalf of Jewish rights.
The situation has simply become intolerable and Knesset action is long overdue.
To fully appreciate the absurdity of the police’s behavior, consider the case of activist Yehuda Glick, who has dedicated his life to educating the public about the Temple Mount. For years, Glick has taken countless groups to the site, explaining its history and significance.
A few months ago, the police informed him out of the blue that they were banning him from ascending the Mount, without explaining the reasons behind their decision. Glick’s numerous attempts to clarify why the police were hitting him with this draconian and decidedly undemocratic measure were met with stony silence.
So he launched an audacious hunger strike, which has stretched to over 50 days, seeking to get his fundamental civil right to visit the Mount restored, or at least to force the police to provide an explanation so that he can counter whatever allegations might exist against him.
This is no way for any self-respecting democracy to be acting. Government exists to protect the rights of the people, not to thwart them, and it is about time that Israel stopped preventing Jews from engaging in public worship on the Temple Mount.
This issue has nothing to do with extremism and everything to do with basic questions of liberty and freedom. The fact of the matter is that Jews and Muslims both pray at the Tomb of Samuel the Prophet outside Jerusalem, and at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. There is no reason why they cannot do so at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem too.