Tzipi Hotovely visits Temple Mount.
(photo credit: EZRA GABBAY)
You know the situation in the capital has taken a decided turn for the worse when Avigdor Liberman suddenly sounds like the voice of reason and moderation. And when the Sephardi chief rabbi chimes in, attacking other rabbis for pouring oil on the fire, it really is time to be concerned.
Unless of course you’re the prime minister, who has cynically decided to make Jerusalem the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, regardless of the damage this will cause.
As Foreign Minister Liberman rightly said in a radio interview at the end of last week, the cheap publicity stunts of various right-wing Knesset members ascending the Temple Mount only serve to harm Israel’s interests. Israeli security, he said, would not be improved by these attempted demonstrations of Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, meanwhile, used a funeral eulogy to blast what he contemptuously termed “fourth-division” rabbis from the right-wing national-religious camp for calling on Jews to enter the Temple Mount. Interestingly, Yosef did so without making the halachic argument that it was forbidden for Jews to enter the compound because of the unknown whereabouts of the Holy of Holies, the area of the Temple that only the high priest could enter.
Instead, the chief rabbi made the common-sense case that such visits simply served to incite hatred and had the effect of pouring oil on a bonfire.
Speaking at the funeral of Shalom Aharon Ba’adni, who died over the weekend of his injuries following last week’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem, Yosef clearly stated that Temple Mount visits must stop in order to prevent “the spilling of more Jewish blood.”
But in the eyes of messianic right-wing politicians, such as Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, these common-sense arguments are nothing less than defeatism. Using the platform of a speech at Bar- Ilan University (an ironic counter perhaps to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s famous Bar-Ilan speech, in which he recognized the rights of Palestinians to their own state), Bennett fumed that “a government which apologizes instead of demanding an apology when its citizens are killed has no right to exist. A government that cannot restore deterrence and sovereignty and provide security for it citizens in their capital, has no right to exist.”
Tough words, but will Bennett actually act on them? So far, he has shown little sign of wanting to leave this government that he says has no right to exist. Unlike the previous incarnation of Bayit Yehudi, the National Religious Party, Bennett has been careful not to issue ultimatums that will bring down the government in which he serves. The last time the religious Right brought down a Netanyahu-led government, it was replaced by a Labor one, and Bennett seems to have learned this lesson.
Like his one-time boss Netanyahu, Bennett is a master at crafting the message he believes will best serve his narrow interests at any particular time.
Before the elections, Bennett was all “religious Judaism with a friendly face,” seeking to capture votes from the secular yet traditional center. Today Bennett wants to conquer the Right, and so his rhetoric has shifted to the dog whistle of the national camp: security and Jerusalem.
In so doing, Bennett is aping the prime minister.
Netanyahu knows that 2015 is likely to be the last year of this coalition due to its lack of ideological cohesiveness and real achievements to show for its years in power. Therefore, the prime minister has entered re-election mode. The evidence for this can be seen firstly by his desire to bring forward the date of the Likud leadership election, and secondly, and more fatefully, by his repetition of the 1996 playbook, which brought him to the Prime Minister’s Office for the first time.
Back in 1996, the election slogans “Peres will divide Jerusalem” and “Netanyahu is good for the Jews” gave Netanyahu his surprise victory over then-Labor leader Shimon Peres. Returning to type, Netanyahu has once again placed Jerusalem at the top of the agenda, regardless of the diplomatic cost to Israel internationally, or the worsening security situation in the capital.
Any responsible prime minister, in an era of stalled peace talks but the possibility, post-Gaza war, of securing a wider alliance between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab world, would avoid controversial moves in the capital, such as launching plans for Jewish construction over the Green Line. Instead Netanyahu last month advanced plans for 660 housing units in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in Har Homa.
And despite publicly insisting that he has no intent to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, as prime minister Netanyahu has done nothing to stop government ministers and deputy ministers, such as Uri Ariel and Tzipi Hotovely, from visiting the Temple Mount and calling for Jewish sovereignty to be applied there. If Netanyahu was serious about restoring calm to Jerusalem, he would rein in these visits and stop such dangerous talk, but for the moment, garnering votes from the Right is more important to Netanyahu than the national interest.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.