The most dangerous man in the Middle East?

Yehudah Glick has a reputation as a radical redheaded rabblerouser, but since entering the Knesset he has confounded his critics with an often progressive agenda.

MK Yehudah Glick at the Temple Mount (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MK Yehudah Glick at the Temple Mount
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There is an extraordinary 55-second video on YouTube that shows Yehudah Glick praying on the Temple Mount. Filmed on July 17, 2014, it is extraordinary not because Glick was not arrested for praying – a strongly enforced prohibition for all Jews – but because of whom he is praying with, and what he is praying.
Four Muslims are sitting on chairs lined up along a wall on the eastern side of the Mount. They are praying. A fifth man standing on the right joins in.
“I saw a group there, and I saw they were not looking to harass us,” Glick, a Likud MK, tells The Jerusalem Report in the Knesset cafeteria in late November.
“They were different than the others who were yelling… they were not looking to use violence against us. They were sitting and praying. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to join them…’ Just like that.”
Glick sits on the empty chair in the middle of the row, which is how the YouTube video begins. The man to his immediate right, wearing the green fez, is blind. Even he can sense something is going on.
“Of course they knew who I was,” says Glick, fully aware of how easily recognizable he is with his carrot-colored hair and beard ‒ “a notorious figure for many Palestinian Jerusalemites throughout the years,” according to the news portal Middle East Eye.
“When I sat down and started praying, at first, they were shocked. Then they were so happy that I was joining with them,” which is evident by the wide grins across the row.
“It was unexpected, all spontaneous. I didn’t know I was being filmed. I was sitting with them sincerely to give them kavod [honor and respect].”
The men continue smiling as they sway forward and back while praying: lā ilāha illā allāh, there is no god but God.
“As soon as I recognized the prayer, I said ‘I’m going to join them.’” Glick knew what they were praying from the Koran verses he had learned when studying to be a tour guide. Lā ilāha illā allāh is one of the major pillars of the Muslim faith, he explains, “like our Shema Yisrael. When you become a Muslim, you say that sentence three times – there’s another sentence you add to that, which I didn’t say, of course – and you become Muslim.”
Glick walks down the row, reciting the “Muslim Shema” in a loud and clear voice.
Proudly. He then says it in Hebrew: adonai eloheinu, adonai echad.
One of the Muslim men recites the last verse of Psalms 24, in Hebrew: “Mi hu melekh hakavod? Adonai hu melekh hakavod.”
Glick urges him to repeat it, which he does.
Then Glick says it after him, in the same loud and proud voice. And the video ends.
Is this the real Yehudah Glick? The man who prays lā ilāha illā allāh in Arabic together with smiling Muslims? Or is he the way he has been portrayed – the radical redheaded rabble-rouser, the troublemaker, the extremist, the dangerous American-born right-wing agitator whose mission to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount is so incendiary that the police once called him the most dangerous man in the Middle East?
THREE AND a half months later, Mutaz Hajazi from the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem is waiting outside the nearby Menachem Begin Heritage Center, on the Hinnom Ridge facing the Old City walls.
That October 29 night in 2014, the Seekers of Zion organization is holding its annual conference of Temple Mount loyalists, an event always held on or around the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, the anniversary of Maimonides’s ascent to the Mount.
While Glick is packing up his car after the event, just across from the entrance to the Begin Center on Nakhon Street, Hajazi ‒ a member of Islamic Jihad who served 11 years in Israeli prisons for security offenses – rides down the street on his motorcycle and stops next to Glick, who turns to face him. Hajazi doesn’t ask his name – he doesn’t have to, the identity of the redhead is obvious. Glick has no idea who the motorcyclist in front of him is.
“I thought he was a Shasnik [someone from the Shas party], he had a short black beard ‒ I thought he was about to tell me why it is forbidden halachically to go up on the Temple Mount.”
“Ani nora mitzta’er” Hajazi says to Glick.
I am very sorry.
Glick doesn’t understand what this stranger is talking about. “I moved closer, to ask him ‘what are you saying,’” and he is now moving straight toward the gun.
“He says, ‘ata oyeiv shel al-aksa [You are an enemy of al-Aksa].’ Then he pulled out the pistol and shot me. Point-blank. Four bullets.”
Traveling through Glick’s stomach and chest, the bullets missed all vital organs except for the lungs. His left arm was also hit.
“My arm was lying like this across my stomach, and one of the bullets went through here” he says, pointing to the top of his left forearm, about two inches above his wrist.
It is two years since the shooting, but the memory never leaves him, as he describes the bullets’ trajectory, reviewing in his mind’s eye his own personal Zapruder film frame by frame.
“It comes out here,” he says, pointing to the inside of his forearm, “then through my chest and out the back. We started yelling ‘pigu’a [terrorist attack].’ I was staggering, I fell on the ground. The last thing I remember was my friend Shay yelling in my ear, ‘Rav Yehudah, al taylaych, anachnu tzerichim otcha (Rabbi Yehudah, don’t go, we need you).” Glick collapsed unconscious.
“His condition when he arrived at the hospital was critical, as critical as could be,” said the doctor in charge of the Intensive Care Unit.
Glick admits that thoughts of Hajazi come to mind frequently.
“Actually, very often. Every time I see a motorcycle, I associate it [with the assassination attempt], I immediately check what it is. When I go to the Begin Center, I associate it.”
Moreover, he often sees Hajazi’s face, pasted together with death threats he receives on Facebook and in the mail. This is his life now, he says. At home, he has cameras and security, and two guards who travel with him everywhere in a bullet-proof car.
Luckily, as an MK, the Knesset pays for it.
“I feel very, very lucky, and that if Hashem decided to leave me in the world, it means that my mission is not over. And not only that, he decided to put me in the Knesset, which is way beyond anything I ever expected.”
TWO MONTHS after being shot, Glick announced that he was running again for the Likud primary. Having been No. 56 on the Likud list in the previous election, Glick now challenges for the 33 slot, reserved for a representative from Judea and Samaria, “although it is almost certainly out of reach for the Likud, which is polling in the low 20s,” wrote The Jerusalem Post.
Ten days later, he came to vote in the primary, his left arm still in a cast, his wife pushing him in a wheelchair. He wins the slot, but knows he’s not going into the Knesset. “The only campaigning I did,” he laughs, “was the day before Election Day, I posted something on my Facebook page.”
Come March 17, the Likud wins 30 seats, Glick is three away. Fourteen months later, after three MKs have left the Knesset, Glick is sworn in as Likud MK No. 30 on May 25, 2016.
He is in. Against overwhelming odds, the 51-year-old has made it into the Knesset, only the sixth American-born MK ever.
Where once he was a fringe player, he now is a public figure. He now can fight for Temple Mount rights from the inside, as a lawmaker.
But first there was the business of being an MK, of being a member of Likud, of being a part of the coalition. And what kind of MK has Glick been? A very surprising one.
To his critics, he was still the firebrand settler, the right-wing political and religious extremist looking to stir up trouble. They feared that the Knesset was welcoming in another Orthodox fanatic who would lobby on the side of all the other ultra-Orthodox MKs. But when it came to push the parliamentary button and vote, the new MK confounded everyone.
On matters of religion and state, Glick most often sides with the progressive agenda of Conservative and Reform Jews, though to him it’s not a matter of left-wing politics, it’s a matter of human rights.
For example, there was the controversial bill banning non-Orthodox converts from state-funded mikvaot (ritual purification baths). The coalition supported the bill, much to the chagrin of the Conservative and Reform world.
Before the vote, Glick delivered an impassioned speech directed at Moshe Gafni, the United Torah Judaism MK who introduced the bill. “What does it bother you, MK Gafni, if a Reform woman immerses herself in the mikve? She doesn’t stop you from immersing... Why do we need these divisions?” As a member of the coalition, Glick couldn’t vote against the bill, but he could have opted out by reaching a vote-pairing agreement with someone from the opposition.
Or he could have just walked out. But he stayed, and abstained ‒ the only Knesset member from Likud not to support the bill.
Glick is also in favor of allowing the Women of the Wall to pray at the Western Wall; has no problem with women wearing prayer shawls; fought to allow the gay pride parade; took part in the demonstration held across the street from the Chief Rabbinate, to demand recognition of conversions performed by the longtime New York Orthodox leader Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Ivanka Trump’s rabbi; and supported former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, when he condemned the army medic who shot and killed a prone and wounded Palestinian attacker in Hebron.
WHILE HE has been accused of being a fanatical zealot, he admits to fanaticism only regarding his support for every person’s right to live differently, to behave differently, to think differently, and that includes not imposing anything on anyone: He was against canceling an event in Tel Aviv because they only allowed male performers, against forcing the haredi parties to add women to their Knesset lists, against forcing ultra-Orthodox schools to teach English and math, and against forcing Haredim to be drafted to the army.
“I always vote against any kind of coercion,” he emphasizes. “You can’t force people ‒ this is their belief, and you have to respect it.”
While to some his political positions seem unlikely, they do make sense in view of his American upbringing. Issues of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly ‒ Glick is a walking First Amendment.
He was born in Brooklyn on November 20, 1965, the second youngest among four brothers and two sisters. A Mets fan, Glick went to Yeshiva of Brooklyn on Ocean Parkway, and remembers reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
“Two people we spoke about in our house – Elie Wiesel and Chaim Potok,” he recalls.
“That was American Jewry at that time.”
He also remembers household talks about Natan Sharansky, his family campaigning for Soviet Jewry, and his parents and brother secretly meeting with Jews in the Soviet Union. “We talked about Soviet Jewry all the time.”
He made aliya from Flatbush on July 10, 1974, living first in Beersheba where his father, Shimon, helped establish the medical school. He also remembers being called gingy kalabassa, an outdated Israeli jeer directed at redheads.
AT AGE 22, Glick moved to Otniel, seven and a half miles south of Hebron, and has lived there ever since. He was named spokesman for the Immigration Ministry in 1996, but resigned in 2005 in protest over Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip. He served as executive director of the Temple Institute, chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, leader of the HaLiba group, and became a tour guide, specializing in the Temple Mount.
His social libertarian approach to individual freedoms extends to the Temple Mount as well, as he sees it – and he can’t understand why others don’t see it the same way.
“The ones who aggravate me are the people who speak up about human rights for the Palestinians, about women of the Kotel, [but] when you speak about Har Habayit [the Temple Mount], they’re not going to support you. Why not? It’s human rights for people to walk around freely. Freedom of speech. You see Meretz going to support women of the Kotel, but they’ll never support the guys on Har Habayit. They will, eventually,” he says.
What really aggravates Glick is how he is portrayed by the media, which sees his fight for the right to pray on the Temple Mount as a lit match that can set the Middle East on fire.
“In what world is a person who talks about freedom, talks about human rights, talks about respecting every person, always referred to as a provocative person?” he says. “And that’s how they refer to me!” Glick made his first trip to the Temple Mount at age 24, and his last on the day he became a Member of Knesset, due to the injunction on parliamentarians ascending the Mount imposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Glick has been repeatedly arrested while praying, been banned from going up to the Temple Mount when a judge ruled that his presence was inflammatory, has gone to the High Court of Justice three times over his right to ascend, and to lower courts dozens of times. He kept fighting for his rights, and kept going up, sometimes four or five times in a day. He used to keep count, but stopped at 1,010. Every trip was precious.
“When I go to Har Habayit, I always try not to promote any agendas. My personal agendas, my political agendas, my religious agendas ‒ I take care of them in court, I take care of them in the press, I take care of them in the Knesset. Har Habayit is the place where you’re standing there transparent in front of Hashem.”
But he’s not ignorant of the real world, the political and religious sensitivities involved, and of the need to find solutions, even with the backing he receives from other MKs like Culture Minister Miri Regev, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Glick believes the Temple Mount could function the same way as does the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, with separate areas for Jewish and Muslim worshipers, and where access to the whole site is provided to Jews or Muslims on certain holidays of the year.
He is pragmatic.
Asked what he would do if an earthquake struck the Mount and the Dome of the Rock collapsed, Glick smiles.
“You’re gonna be surprised by my answer. If I were prime minister and that would happen, I would rebuild it.”
The Third Temple, which as a believing Jew he is sure will be rebuilt, will have to wait.
“I don’t think we should jump; things should happen gradually. When Binyamin Zev Herzl began the Zionist movement in the 1890s, he had no idea what Route 6 was gonna look like, what Intel was gonna look like. If you would have asked Herzl how’s it going, he would have said it’s going very slow. But if I look back at what happened here in the last half century, believe me, there’s nothing faster than that.”
Not only will the Muslims eventually recognize the Jewish people’s right to go up to the Temple Mount, he says, but it is from there that peace can start.
“I think there would be a lot of [opportunities] if there was real dialogue between people who are believing in God, if we would be able to speak to the hearts of people who are believing in God, who are sure we are not threatening them. I always say, in an orchestra, the drum and the violin don’t threaten each other. They complete each other. In my eyes, I would be very happy if all the Muslims come pray to Allah, to one God. And that’s a moment of true shalom, from the nekuda of emuna [the point of faith]. Because Hashem’s name is shalom. And I think that’s where we have to go.”