Yehudah Glick is undeterrable. Last year, he survived an assassination attempt when a Palestinian shot him four times at point-blank range. Before firing, the terrorist had called Glick an “enemy of al-Aqsa” for his vocal advocacy on behalf of Jews’ rights on the Temple Mount.
But Glick is not backing down.
Even now that Israel finds itself in the middle of an extended terror wave, which is to a large extent inspired by Muslim concerns over the Jews’ alleged intention to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque, Glick does not intend to stop calling for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. And he might soon be able to make his case as a member of Israel’s parliament.
“Just as I do it today outside the Knesset, I’ll try to do it inside the Knesset,” the 50-year-old redhead told The Times of Israel this week in Jerusalem. “If I am in the Knesset, I will try do my best to change the situation on Temple Mount.”
While insisting that he would also deal with other matters, such as social issues and interfaith dialogue, Glick confirmed that he would be “involved in human rights, including rights for Jews on the Temple Mount. I will be involved in trying to promote protecting basic rights including freedom of movement and freedom of worship.”
Jews can currently visit the contested site but are forbidden from praying there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted numerous times in recent months that he does not wish to change this arrangement — the so-called status quo — which has been in place ever since Israeli troops captured Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 Six Day War.
“Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu said on October 24.
But currently, Jews can’t even go up there without being harassed, argued Glick, the director of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation. “At the moment there is no freedom of movement for Jews,” he said.
When as recently as a year ago, Glick could lead up to 100 people to the site in a single group, he said, today the police restricts groups to 15 people. The Islamic Waqf, the trust that has administrative control over the compound, used to send two representatives to accompany groups of 40 visitors; today there are seven Waqf men watching every group, according to Glick.
“The status quo on the Temple Mount is changing every single day. It’s getting worse everyday,” he lamented. “I’d be very happy to return to the status quo of 15 years ago. Or even the status quo of one year ago.”
Glick, who grew up in Brooklyn and immigrated to Israel with his family when he was eight, is next in line to enter parliament for the Likud party. In internal Likud elections before the general election in March, he placed 33rd on the party’s roster for Knesset, which seemed like a long shot. But then Likud surprisingly got 30 seats. After that, Danny Danon left to become Israel’s ambassador to the UN. And now Silvan Shalom is quitting politics amid harassment allegations. If one more Likud MK drops out, Glick will be sworn in as a lawmaker.
Political pundits say it’s not unlikely that rabble-rousing MK Oren Hazan, currently barred from participating in parliamentary debates because of his behavior in the House, will be forced to quit the Knesset. A recent state comptroller report accused him of severely violating campaign finance laws and he now faces a three-year prison sentence. According to the abridged version of the so-called Norwegian Law, which the Knesset passed in July, government ministers may also quit the parliament while holding on to their ministerial portfolios, freeing up their seat.
One way or another, Yehudah Glick could become Yehudah Glick MK pretty soon.
‘I don’t think Netanyahu has what to be afraid of’
In preparation for that possible future position, Glick has been regularly attending the Likud’s weekly faction meetings. Ideologically, he appears a good match: like most Likud MKs (thought unlike party chairman Netanyahu) he rejects Palestinian statehood, calling for a one-state solution and for “encouraging options for any Arabs who want to move out of here.”
Amid the relentless surge in terror attacks, however, a new MK who is a vocal proponent of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount would seem to be the last thing the prime minister needs. “Netanyahu is appalled at the possibility that a Temple Mount activist will become part of the governing faction,” Haaretz political commentator Yossi Verter wrote back in October.
Naturally, the opposition parties also have few good things to say about the new would-be MK.
“Glick entering the Knesset would constitute one more step toward the messianic right’s total takeover of the Likud,” MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) told The Times of Israel Wednesday. “Even though I am not sure it would drastically change the situation, since every reasonable person knows that Netanyahu is held captive by the extremists.”
Netanyahu has no legal way to stop Glick from entering the Knesset. As soon as a Likud MK resigns or is kicked out of the Knesset and Glick renounces his US citizenship, he will be sworn in, with all the rights and responsibility pertaining to this lofty office.
Glick cheerfully acknowledges the potential discomfort for the prime minister. “I heard somebody is in panic because of that,” he said with a smile.
But then turning more serious, Glick notes he has met with Netanyahu several times and has been given no indication that the prime minister opposes his activism.
On August 19, Glick had a one-on-one meeting with Netanyahu that lasted over half an hour, to discuss the situation on Temple Mount as well as Glick’s own political aspirations. Netanyahu was “warm and understanding,” he said at the time. Glick presented Netanyahu with a new book published by his Temple Mount Heritage Foundation. “Arise and Ascend” is a 75-page guidebook covering both the history and topography of Temple Mount, as well as practical information for tourists and pilgrims.
Glick allows that news of his becoming a lawmaker could give rise to worldwide objections that Netanyahu could do without.
“I could understand his feelings, especially since in the past few years the police really have gone out of their way to do some kind of character assassination and give the feeling that I’m a very dangerous and provocative person.”
But Glick, who carries a gun ever since the failed assassination attempt, said he is a team player and promised to try not to cause any trouble. “I don’t think he has what to be afraid of,” he said about Netanyahu in this context. “I’m not joining the Knesset as a private person.”
‘If I want to become a lawmaker, I better become a lawkeeper’
For instance, Glick said he would honor the prime minister’s order not to ascend to the Temple Mount. In fact, he says he supported Netanyahu’s October 8 decision to bar elected officials from visiting the compound in a bid to quell the violence that was rampant at the time.
“I think he had to do it. He had no other option, and I am very happy he did it,” Glick said. “If I want to become a lawmaker, I better become a lawkeeper. Thank God, I can say I already am one. I’ve never broken a law.”
He has, however, had numerous encounters with law enforcement agencies. A court case in which he is accused of having pushed an Arab woman who then broke her arm is currently pending. Glick himself sued the police seven times, for either falsely arresting him or denying him access to the Temple Mount. He has won three cases and four cases are ongoing.
‘The only way for the friction to stop is an agreed-upon solution’
Vowing to keep pushing for Jews’ right to pray on the Temple Mount but promising not to defy the government’s policy of keeping the status quo, what’s Glick’s proposal for the contested site?
“The goal,” he declared, “is for the Temple Mount to become a ‘house of prayer for all nations.’ Anybody who wants to pray to God — the Temple Mount should be the place to do it. And anybody who has a violent agenda should not be there.”
And how exactly is he going to achieve that?
“I want the friction to stop,” he replied. “And the only way for the friction to stop is an agreed-upon solution. To get to this you need a committee of people representing all interests, where people yell at each other, and listen to each other, until they find an agreement and come to a solution. A solution of respect for one another. A solution that a normal world can live with.”
A modus vivendi can be established, he insisted, citing the arrangement found, after years of bloody conflict, for the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t find a solution of sharing and showing respect to all on the Temple Mount.”
Glick might claim to promote a message of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, but his entrance to the Knesset would send a problematic message, said Yedidia Stern, vice president at the Israel Democracy Institute.
“Yehudah Glick is known to be an activist who invokes disagreement between Jews and Arabs in Israel — he is a symbol,” Stern told The Times of Israel. If such a symbol were to enter Israel’s parliament, “one might worry that it would be interpreted as if he represents Israeli policy. This would be a mistaken interpretation, but still something about which one might worry.”
‘The vast majority of the Muslim world doesn’t see any reason we should not allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount’
Left-wing groups and even centrist politicians such as former Shin Bet chief Yaacov Peri argue that any change to the fragile status quo on the Temple Mount has the potential to inflame the entire Arab world. Some worry that any move advancing Jewish rights at the site could spark World War III.
But Glick is unfazed.
“World wars don’t start so easily,” he said calmly. Some radicalized Arabs are trying to convince the world that 1.5 billion Muslims are ready to descend on Jerusalem to defend al-Aqsa. “But the Muslims of the world are not being convinced.”
No one came to the Palestinians’ help during the Second Intifada — also known as al-Aqsa Intifada — and no one will come this time either, he asserted. “They really couldn’t care less,” he said. “A million and a half Muslims are not coming. The vast majority of the Muslim world supports human rights and doesn’t see any reason in the world why we should not allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. They don’t understand why people should be arrested for reciting a prayer.”
Glick used to recite minha, the afternoon prayer, regularly at the Temple Mount, and no one bothered him, he said. (Police have barred him from ascending to the site for over a year now, his mere presence being deemed potentially incendiary). In 1994, he recalled, police minister Moshe Shahal told a Knesset panel that Jews are praying daily on the mount, “and nothing happened. Every day, all the time, without any problems.”
Glick dreams of bringing back those days. The best way to achieve that is to increase the number of Jewish visitors, he said. “When you have 15,000 Jews per year and three million Muslims per year going to the Temple Mount, it’s hard to make a change. But if we got a point where 100,000 Jews annually come — that way we can come and demand changes.”
Not a big believer in rushed revolutions, Glick wants to advance gradually toward his goal. “Even if Yehudah Glick is prime minister tomorrow morning, I’m not going to make a major change in one day. But yes, there will be a process of change.”
Eventually, he believes, Jews will be able to pray on the Temple Mount. “Whether it’s in two years, five years or 10 years from today, I don’t know. I have patience.”