Which is more outrageous?

For months, the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem has been the scene of increased harassment of Jews and tourists who visit the site, despite such visits being permitted as part of a long existing status quo.

The Islamist groups responsible for the harassment are called “Mourabitoun” (males) and “Mourabitat” (females), which some translate as “defenders of the faith”, or “steadfast” or “garrison soldiers”.

Numerous incidents have been documented in which these groups shout, curse and sometimes physically assault non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount, even during the hours when such visits are permitted. This rising pattern of intimidation seems aimed at altering the status quo to the disadvantage of Jews and Christians. On September 8th, Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, declared these groups to be illegal organizations.

This week, for three days starting on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, there were violent encounters on the Temple Mount as Israeli police, acting on intelligence, confronted Muslim men and youths at the entrance to Al-Aksa Mosque, finding pipe bombs and other objects, apparently intended for attacking visitors and/or security forces during Rosh Hashanah.

In the wake of these confrontations, there have been numerous statements from Palestinian and Muslim speakers that seem aimed at increasing the tension. As reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday, September 16, that Palestinians would not allow Israelis to “desecrate” holy sites in the Old City. Speaking in Ramallah to a group of “east Jerusalem activists” Abbas said the following: “Al-Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.” Was this just a bad translation of what Abbas said? Unlikely, given that the award-winning Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab journalist, is perfectly fluent in Arabic and is an accomplished writer in English. According to the article, Abbas also praised the “Muslim male and female worshipers whose job it is to harass Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount,” clearly referring to the Mourabitoun and Mourabitat.

Since Abbas’s statements on Wednesday, has President Barack Obama publicly rebuked Abbas for his incendiary words? Did the U.S. State Department do so? Regrettably, googling turns up no such statements. This silence is outrageous, perhaps even more outrageous than Abbas’s words. I imagine that had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a statement referring to Palestinians’ “filthy feet” or something similarly offensive, the White House and/or State Department would have been outspoken in condemning Netanyahu’s coarse language. Within the last six months President Obama has on several prominent occasions publicly criticized statements by Netanyahu. In contrast, unfortunately, there has been a well-established pattern throughout the entire duration of the Obama Administration, in which it has refrained from publicly criticizing Abbas for statements or actions that manifest deep hostility to Israel.

During this summer’s efforts by the Obama administration to line up votes of Congressmen and Senators in support of the Iran deal, Obama used to word “sacrosanct” in connection with Israel, saying, for example, “The commitment to Israel is sacrosanct, non-partisan, and always will be.” Michael Oren was Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. during 2009-13. In his recent book, “Ally,” he describes numerous instances of critical and sometimes hostile actions or statements against Israel or Prime Minister Netanyahu, some public, some private, and some quite scurrilous, made by or attributed to Obama administration officials. In light of this, “sacrosanct” seemed to be a peculiar or ironic way of characterizing the U.S. relationship with its ally Israel. In contrast, the long-standing policy of not publicly criticizing Mahmoud Abbas really does seem to be “sacrosanct.” It’s a pity that this is the case, because Palestinian obduracy has, if anything, increased during the Obama years, making an end of the conflict even more remote.

About the Author
Lewis Rosen is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for more than 35 years. Born and educated in the US, he worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity for two years in Washington D.C. and was on the economics faculty of York University in Toronto, Canada for 13 years. In Israel he has been involved in a wide range of business planning and economic analysis projects.