This year, the Hebrew month of Av, with its three-week mourning period
(beginning with the 17th of Tammuz fast) and the 25-hour Tisha Be’av fast, all
connected with the destruction of the two Temples 2,500 years ago and 1,900
years ago, coincided with the Muslim month-long Ramadan. As a result, the media
was full of reports on issues and incidents relating to the Temple
Here are a few examples: Jews were disintegrating foundations of
the Aqsa mosque through the use of chemicals; Israel was burrowing under the
Temple Mount compound in the area of the Mughrabi Gate; a group of youth
movement demonstrators intended to march with signs bearing the slogan “the
Temple Mount is in Our Hands” (made famous by Mordechai Gur after Jerusalem’s
Old City was conquered during the Six Day War) but the signs were banned by
police who claimed it constituted incitement; a tree fell over and Israel was
blamed, again, due to underground excavations; hundreds of religious Jews who
visited the site were described as “storming” the compound.
was the discovery of scaffolding placed on the Foundation Stone as well as
pails, shoes and other renovation materials strewn about, a clear case of
religious desecration. The US State Department’s annual Religious Freedom Report
included a note that “only Muslims are allowed to pray at the [Temple
Mount/Haram A-Sharif]... [and] Non- Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to
be worn on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”
Following an unexpected
closure of the Temple Mount to Jewish ascent on the 9th of Av fast, MKs Arieh
Eldad (National Union) and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) announced
legislative moves to fix time and location arrangements permitting Jewish prayer
at the site and, last but not least (or all), Attorney- General Yehuda
Weinstein’s letter to the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem police and the
Antiquities Authority was made public. The letter stated unequivocally that the
Temple Mount is under Israeli law while the authorities must be “extra
sensitive” in applying the law.
In June, a visiting Jewish student from
the UK was told by a Wakf official to remove his kippa and in August, a
Palestinian flag was flying from the Temple Mount. Over the past few months
several Jews have been banned from entrance with no time limit fixed and no
adequate judicial recourse provided.
HOWEVER, WE must make clear that by
“the media is full,” we meant that the Arab-language media. The Hebrew-language
press and the Israeli TV and radio broadcasting networks paid minimal
Despite the criminal acts of desecration which in a normal
country would lead to prosecution according to Paragraph 2 of the Law for the
Protection of the Holy Sites, the blatant attempts by Muslims to agitate, incite
and generate acts of violence against Jews and the quite obviously false claims
of Jews harming the Mount – and the list above is only partial – Israel’s media
hardly paid attention.
The whole issue was portrayed as affecting mostly
the extreme right wing. The events were characterized more as an anomaly rather
than a fundamental issue of civil liberties and religious freedom, basic rights
that the law should guarantee and uphold.
Highlighted was MK Eldad’s
suggestion, a reaction to the government’s proposal to slice up the Ulpana
neighborhood houses, that the Muslim Temple Mount structures be similarly
treated, but no serious panel discussion was conducted nor were government
representatives grilled over the discriminatory police actions or their lack of
response to the outlandish Muslim claims.
The Arabic-speaking population
in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the rest of the Arab world,
was being fed a constant stream of invective.
Sheikh Raed Salah, banned
from Jerusalem and who has been tried and convicted of funding Hamas, and of
having contact with an Iranian intelligence agent, continued his anti-Jewish
Yet the biggest story in the Israeli press was the belated
announcement of the discovery of hundreds of skeletons near the Temple Mount,
although the ramifications of that discovery are more historical than
This past Sunday, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, a senior imam at al-Aqsa
Mosque, released a statement that the Aqsa Mosque, by which he means the entire
Temple Mount compound, “is not subject to negotiation, and... the Jews have
nothing to do with al-Aqsa Mosque.”
THE DECIDED lack of Israeli media
interest in pursuing these stories, delegating them to the level of religious
oddities, has two major effects.
The first is that when violence does
break out, as in 1996 when the Hasmonean Tunnel opening caused riots or in 2000
when Ariel Sharon’s visit was wrongfully described as the cause of the second
intifada, we are left in the dark. As researched by Dr. Dore Gold, media
consumers have no true perspective or knowledge regarding the Muslim fanaticism
that feeds a Temple denial attitude.
The second is that the Jewish side
of the story is relegated to, at best, eccentricity status. It is presented to
Israel’s populace as something insignificant and if it does make headlines, it’s
the fault of the Jews.
As Giulio Meotti has pointed out, the Temple Mount
is, since 1929, the major front in the effort by the Palestinians and Arabs to
erase Jewish historical identity from the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, our
media minimizes its magnitude as a reflection of the national struggle between
Jews and Arabs.
Michael Freund on these pages was more specific in his
accusations that “incidents that should have sparked outrage across the Jewish
world but instead were met with stony silence... detestable acts of
anti-Semitism elicited neither... a peep of public protest from world Jewish
leaders or organizations.”
There is no question that this lack of
reaction is at least partially due to the fact that the Israeli media downplays
Temple Mount incidents against Jews.
The Israeli media prides itself and
even demands special rights as the country’s watchdog. Why then does it react so
sluggishly to the real discrimination and delegitimization of anything Jewish in
the Temple Mount? Is that how responsible media acts in a democratic country? As
we have witnessed during the same period, editors, if they so wish, are quite
successful at creating agendas even on rather minor issues, such as Keren
Neubach’s broadcasting woes, or Adar Cohen’s firing as civics supervisor for the
The evidence from the media coverage this summer and
the lack of interest by our media icons such as Amnon Abramovich, Ilana Dayan or
Motti Kirschenbaum, as well as the self-appointed “guardians of democracy” such
as the Israel Democracy Institute, the Association for Civil Rights or B’tselem,
all indicates that they are wantonly ignoring the fundamental issue of freedom
of religion for Jews and Christians on the Temple Mount.
Is the media
afraid Jewish presence on the Temple Mount would undermine their secular
cultural and post-modern views? Are our politicians impotent due to the media’s
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman
of Israel’s Media Watch.