As the UK hopefully emerges from the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, various sectors of society that have, perforce, been shut down are slowly beginning to reopen. These include places of worship serving a very wide variety of faiths and denominations. Suppose – just suppose – that the UK government were to announce that all places of worship could indeed reopen, except any that served the UK’s Jewish communities. One would hope that such an announcement would trigger the loudest of protestations, and that human rights activists would lose no time in denouncing the policy and in seeking legal redress.
I can hear you say that I am being the fanciful contrarian that I am customarily accused of being, and that such a thing would/could never happen in this country.
Perhaps. But such a thing has happened in Israel.
During the Covid-19 emergency the government of Israel banned worshippers of all faiths from congregating on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews. But it now appears that while the Israeli authorities are permitting Muslims to re-enter the Mount (or, alternatively, turning a blind eye to these Muslim worshippers), the ban on Jews remains in place. Earlier this month Israel’s Supreme Court was asked to rule on the legality of this discrimination. The Supreme Court is being asked to find that that a secret deal exists between Israel and Jordan, and that it is as a result of this deal that the ban on Jews remains in force. Astonishingly, the government of Israel has not denied that such a deal exists. But it wants to be able to testify behind closed doors.
We need to ask why.
The right of Jews to congregate – let alone pray – on the Temple Mount has been a long-standing source of conflict between Jews and the Islamic world, and reminds us of the religious basis in which this conflict is and continues to be grounded. To put matters bluntly, at the heart of this quarrel is a religious mindset saturated with anti-Jewish prejudice. In 2014, prior to the attempted assassination of rabbi Yehuda Glick ( a well-know advocate of the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount), Palestinian Television broadcast 19 times a plea by PA president Mahmoud Abbas urging that Jews be killed. Abbas implored that Jews be killed – Jews, not Israelis: ”It’s not enough [he declared] for us to say: ‘There are those carrying out Ribat [religious conflict over land claimed to be Islamic]. We must all carry out Ribat in the Al-Aqsa [Mosque]. It’s not enough for us to say: ‘The settlers have arrived [at the Mosque]’. They … must not come to the Sanctuary [i.e., the Temple Mount]. We have to prevent them, in any way whatsoever, from entering the Sanctuary.”
Note the chilling words. Jews, said Abbas, must be prevented “in any way whatsoever” from ascending the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Why must Jews be so prevented? Why, apparently, are Muslims entitled to ascend and pray on the Temple Mount, but not Jews? Because, according to the PA, Jews are inherently evil. Jews praying at the Western Wall defile it. They must be prevented “in any way whatsoever” from defiling the Temple Mount.
In 1994, as part of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, Israel agreed that the Jordanian government should oversee the Temple Mount. So the presumption must surely be that Israel enforces the current ban on Jews at the behest of the Jordanians.
This is hardly the behaviour of a sovereign state, as Israel claims to be. Jerusalem was supposed to have been annexed by Israel as long ago as 1980. Three years ago (24 May 2017) Bibi Netanyahu told the Israeli people and the world that “the Temple Mount and the Western Wall will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.” If that is indeed the case, what possible justification can there be for preventing Jews from ascending the Mount and there engaging in prayer?