Disbelief, disappointment and even fury erupted on social media in response to the news that a local council in Sydney, Australia, “has blocked plans for a new synagogue, saying it may become a terrorist target and poses an unacceptable security risk.” But perhaps all the people fuming about Australian cowardice and the failure to uphold freedom of worship should keep in mind that the “status quo” at Judaism’s holiest place, i.e. the Temple Mount, reflects the same eagerness to prevent “security risks:” while Israel’s Supreme Court has theoretically upheld Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, Jews are effectively barred from exercising these rights whenever there is reason to fear that this might result in a “disturbance to the public order.”
And there has never been a day when there was no reason to fear that Jews praying at their holiest site wouldn’t result in a truly apocalyptic “disturbance to the public order.”
What is regarded all around the world as the sacrosanct “status quo” at Jerusalem’s holiest site means in practice that by threatening violence, Muslims can deny Jews the right to worship at the Temple Mount.
As I noted in a related post years ago, it is supposedly “Islamophobic” to assume “that Muslims are inclined to violence,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Australian authorities were to find themselves accused of such “Islamophobia.” But when it comes to the Temple Mount, which Muslims nowadays often call the “Al Aqsa compound,” or even simply Al Aqsa, Muslims like nothing better than to threaten massive violence in response to any perceived Jewish infringement. As we have recently seen, even “Jewish” metal detectors or security cameras at the entrances to the site can cause riots and violence.
When the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem threatens that the “whole region will be engulfed by war” if Jews pray on the Temple Mount, it is breathlessly reported, but it wouldn’t dawn on any journalist to ask the mufti why Muslims would want to bar Jews from praying on the site where their temples once stood. Indeed, a Guardian columnist will be only too happy to warn that “a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic” if Jews were actually allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, while educating his readers that of course the Jews who want to pray on their holiest site are the dangerous fanatics.
Far be it from me to deny that there are dangerous fanatics among the Jewish activists who demand the right to pray on the holiest site of their faith. I have as little sympathy for these fanatics as I have for the Muslims who deny the Jewish attachment to the site and insist that all of the Temple Mount is an exclusively Islamic sanctuary, as reflected in terms like “Al Aqsa compound.” Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, in an ideal world, everyone allowed to visit the site in order to pray should have to swear on their holy book that they respect the fact that the followers of all three Abrahamic faiths regard the site as holy.
As long as this seems an impossible feat, peace in the Middle East will remain elusive. The religious passions that make the Temple Mount a symbol of Muslim fanaticism are also regularly incited to keep the peace between Israel and Egypt and Jordan ice-cold, and to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians impossible.
While this incitement is either studiously ignored or scandalously downplayed by the media, it is ultimately the reason why synagogues and Jewish institutions around the world often require heavy security. And as long as no amount of security enables Jews to just mumble a quiet prayer on their holiest site in the capital of the world’s only Jewish state, it seems a bit unfair to furiously condemn a decision by a local council in Australia that merely reflects some inconvenient truths about the very real dangers Jews everywhere face not just due to Islamist extremism, but due to the unwillingness of mainstream Muslim religious leaders to acknowledge the Jewish connection to the site on which Muslim conquerors built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque in order to prevent a rebuilding of the Jewish temples that once stood there.
More than a millennium has passed since then, and by the standards of our time, anyone who proposes to tear down these historic shrines in order to turn back the clock is rightly considered an extremist. But by the standards of our time, anyone who denies the historic Jewish connection to the site where the temples once stood and insists it is an exclusively Islamic sanctuary must surely also be considered an extremist. Because this kind of extremism is mainstream among Muslims and encouraged by Muslim leaders all over the world, building a synagogue anywhere in the world means indeed taking a security risk.