The resignation of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Friday has opened the way for a hardliner who advocates Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount compound to enter the Knesset.
American-born Yehudah Glick is the next in line on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party list, meaning he is entitled to take the seat of any party MP who dies or steps down.
The 50-year-old New Yorker may not have thought he would get this chance, after being shot four times by a Palestinian from East Jerusalem in late 2014. The attacker was shot dead in a gunfight with security forces a day later. Before firing, the shooter had called Glick an “enemy of Al-Aqsa” for his vocal advocacy on behalf of Jews’ rights on the Temple Mount.
The nationalist rabbi, who immigrated with his family to Israel as a child, is loathed by Palestinians, who see as a provocation any Jewish presence at the flashpoint mosque complex in Jerusalem’s Old City which houses Islam’s third-holiest shrine,
Jews believe the site was home to the first and second Jewish temples before being destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans, and thus revere it as the holiest site in Judaism.
Current rules governing the site allow Jews to visit during set hours but not to pray there, for fear of stoking tensions.
Glick has been an outspoken advocate of Jewish rights to the holy site and has also guided visits there. In March he returned to the compound for the first time since the assassination attempt. Speaking to AFP at the time, he said it was like “returning home.”
However, he will not be able to visit the site once he becomes a member of parliament, as Netanyahu issued a directive in October banning all lawmakers from going there, in a bid to ease tensions.
He told Hebrew media Friday he would abide by the ruling: “With my entrance to politics, I am a team player and not an individual one.”
A court recently exonerated Glick of a charge of assaulting a Palestinian woman, and removed the police ban on him visiting the holy site.
In December Glick told The Times of Israel that if he were to enter the Knesset, he would continue to advocate Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount from within parliament.
“Just as I do it today outside the Knesset, I’ll try to do it inside the Knesset,” he said. “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.”
Glick has argued that today Jews can’t enter the compound without being harassed. “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 says his goal 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.”
He rejects Palestinian statehood, calling for a one-state solution and for “encouraging options for any Arabs who want to move out of here.”
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.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.