For a man shot point-blank four times in 2014 by a Palestinian gunman who branded him the “enemy of Al-Aqsa,” incoming Likud MK and Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick is remarkably dismissive of any connection between his vocal advocacy of Jewish prayer at Judaism’s holy site and Palestinian terrorism.
“I don’t understand that complaint,” the US-born Orthodox rabbi told The Times of Israel, referring to the argument that his activism stokes violence and fatalistic predictions that his entry to the Knesset Wednesday could trigger attacks — or a World War III.
The 50-year-old redhead was sworn in to the Knesset on Wednesday after former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon resigned from parliament last Friday.
Glick, who directs Haliba, an organization that brings Jewish groups to visit the Temple Mount, is pledging to work within the Knesset to change the “absurd and evil” arrangements at the volatile compound, where Jews may visit, but are forbidden from praying.
Although Israel has repeatedly reassured the Palestinians and Arab states that it will not alter the status quo at the flashpoint site, Glick is confident he will find allies in the Knesset to support his cause.
And asked whether he would tone down his lobbying if asked to do so for security reasons, he said there would be “no reasoning” behind such a request and maintained: “I will continue advocating.”
But in perhaps the first glimmers of the obstacles he may encounter in parliament, on Monday Glick paid his last visit to the Temple Mount as a private citizen. (As an Israeli lawmaker, Glick will be effectively barred from the Temple Mount, a ban for which he he has in the past voiced support.) Although he said he coordinated the visit with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Glick was subsequently reprimanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is the last time you do this to me,” Netanyahu was heard telling a stunned Glick at the end of a Likud faction meeting on Monday afternoon.
A muted Palestinian response
Some critics warn that new MK Glick, a symbol of sought-for change at the Temple Mount, could spell trouble.
“Yehuda Glick’s joining the Knesset would create even more pressure on the government to change the status quo arrangements on the Temple Mount,” said Dr. Motti Inbari, an associate professor of religion at UNC Pembroke and expert on the Jewish Temple Mount movements, speaking days before Glick was sworn in. “I am doubtful that he can change anything, but the two appointments of [presumptive defense minister Avigdor] Liberman and Glick send a message of a harder line by the Israeli government, and I will not be surprised if the Muslims would see it a provocation against them and counterreact.
“He’s part of a movement that deals in pyromania,” added Daniel Seidmann, an attorney and expert in Jerusalem’s geopolitics. “There are few threats that create a clear and present danger to the most vital interests of Israel more than a radical change on the Temple Mount.”
But the Palestinian response to Glick’s joining the Knesset has thus far been muted, with Arabic news outlets reporting the move (as they reported every time he ascended to the Temple Mount), but no official condemnation or exceptional outrage in sight as a seven-month wave of violence sparked largely by perceived threats to Al-Aqsa is on the wane.
Speaking from the Temple Mount Monday, Glick declared that his goal was to bring peace to the fraught site. A 2014 video shows him happily reciting a prayer in Arabic with Muslim worshipers.
“Know that everything that I do stems from the peace this place represents. I hope that it’s remembered that peace is the name of God, and everything I do for the country, the people and for Jerusalem, is driven by this city, the city of peace,” he said.
‘I believe in liberty, I believe in equality’
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Glick moved to Israel at the age of nine and attributes his use of the language of civil rights and equality to his American upbringing. Entering the Knesset, Glick was required to give up his US citizenship, something he says he has “mixed feelings” about. It’s “part of me,” he says, while emphasizing that he now feels “100% Israeli.” Prior to his Temple Mount activism, he worked for nearly a decade in the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, quitting in protest of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.
He lives in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, and was a neighbor to slain Israeli woman Dafna Meir, who was stabbed to death in her home earlier this year. Like Meir, Glick is the foster parent of two children, and father of six. He and his wife are also the legal guardians to the six children of Tali and Yitzhak Ames, who were killed in a terrorist attack in 2010.
While reviled by Palestinians as an “extremist” and “provocateur,” Glick casts himself as an avowed human rights activist and frames the debate over Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount as a human rights issue.
“I’m a very big supporter of human rights and I think we should do whatever we can to promote freedom of speech for everybody. I believe in liberty, I believe in equality and I think those are the basic values the Jewish state is based on,” Glick said.
Michael Melchior, a former government minister who was active with Glick’s father, Shimon, in the liberal-religious Meimad party, has questioned whether Glick should be celebrated as a voice of tolerance. While Melchior admires Glick’s use of universalist language in his Temple Mount work, he said Glick is inconsistent in that he does not advocate for Palestinian rights.
“The human rights motive is used to say, ‘Well, why shouldn’t Jews have the right to pray everywhere?’” Melchior said. “But the human rights motive is a universal motive. If you believe in human rights, will you apply that to everything else that has to do with human rights?”
But Glick, who does not believe in the two-state solution and maintains Israel and the world must abandon the initiative, told The Times of Israel the government must improve the lives of Palestinians.
“That’s our goal: I don’t think we want to live in a state where there are two kinds of civilians, [where] everybody has a different kind of law. There are people that are suffering, and there are very severe human rights issues,” he said. “I think the best thing to do is talk. The best thing to do is talk openly. I feel people are not so willing to trust each other, and we have to work to build up some kind of model of dialogue based on trust.”
Reconciling with the Palestinians and bringing them into the Israeli fold won’t happen “in one day,” he said. “But it will not happen at all if we don’t start working on it gradually.”
‘Reform Jews no less Jewish than everybody else’
In tune with his call for dialogue, Glick said there is “extremism” in Israeli discourse and encourages a “more civilized” debate over the issues dividing Israeli society.
“I think we should do whatever we can to calm things down. Find a common denominator,” he said. On one of the most divisive issues recently, the manslaughter conviction of an IDF soldier accused of shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian stabber, he said: “We don’t have to call him a murderer, but he’s not a hero.”
“The soldier made a big mistake. And as a soldier, when you make mistakes, you pay for your mistakes.”
Glick has also condemned the apparently unprovoked police brutality against an Arab supermarket worker in Tel Aviv and said he had hoped he would be entering a broader unity government with the Zionist Union.
“I would have been very happy if there had been a wider government. I think that should be our goal,” he said.
Glick’s views on freedom of worship also extends to the new mixed-gender plaza at the Western Wall, and he said he was confounded by the opposition to the new section, which has largely come from the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset.
“Everybody should be able to pray as he wishes. I don’t understand where the problem begins,” he said. “Reform Jews are no less Jewish than everybody else.”
“Why does the fact that I want to pray differently than you — why should that bother you?” he said fervently. “I don’t understand.”
Dov Lieber and JTA contributed to this report.