Ministers push for state-funded Temple Mount foundation
In response to UNESCO decision, new body would fight ‘distortion of facts’ relating to Jewish ‘history, tradition and culture’
Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.
Hitting back at a controversial UNESCO resolution ignoring the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, senior Likud ministers put forward a proposal to establish a new government body what would preserve the holy site and educate about its Jewish history.
Proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev and Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the plan includes a NIS 2 million ($550,00) yearly budget to set up the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation that will be responsible for “research, information and advocacy” about the Jewish connection to the site.
As first reported by Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday, the new body would be based on the government-funded Western Wall Heritage Fund, which administers the site adjacent to the Temple Mount.
“In recent years the State of Israel has been facing a deligitimization campaign based on a distortion of facts regarding the history, tradition and culture of the Jewish people,” reads the explanation of the proposal, seen by The Times of Israel.
“One of the peaks of this trend took place recently with the October 2016 UNESCO decision to attempt to nullify the connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount. In light of this trend, the government of Israel sees itself as responsible to prevent this disinformation and distortion of historical truth,” it says.
The controversial UNESCO resolution used only Muslim names for the Jerusalem Old City holy sites and was harshly critical of Israel for what it termed “provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the area.
Lawmakers from both the right and left of the Israeli political spectrum slammed the decision and accused the UN’s cultural arm of anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “absurd,” while President Reuven Rivlin called it an “embarrassment” for UNESCO.
The flashpoint Temple Mount, which is administrated by the Jordanian authorities, is the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews as the site where the biblical Temples stood.
Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary and believe it is the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third-holiest site in Islam and houses the Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine.
The Palestinians have frequently charged that Israel is trying to change longstanding understandings, in place since 1967, under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray at, the site.
Last week Regev unveiled the logo to be used in the upcoming celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli rule. The emblem features an Israeli flag flying atop the old city walls and the Temple Mount and is accompanied by the slogan: “50 years since the liberation of Jerusalem.”
Regev said her insistence on using the word “liberation” and not “reunification” in the logo’s design sought to counter efforts to distort the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
Regev also stressed that part of the image featured “an Israeli flag that has returned to fly above the old city walls, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount.”
Once a fringe issue, Temple Mount activism has in recent years become an increasingly prominent issue in the Israeli political discourse, even as Palestinians attributed the year-long wave of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 to their public’s anger at ostensible imminent changes by Israel to arrangements on the holy site, which Israel firmly denies planning.
Following the October 2014 attempted assassination of Temple Mount activist (and current Likud MK) Yehuda Glick, Netanyahu declared his intention to maintain the status quo at the compound.
In a Monday statement, Glick said he welcomed the plan for a Temple Mount Heritage Foundation and has personally lobbied for its creation.
“We need to state clearly: The temple mount is the foundation of the history of the Jewish people and of the return to the land since the beginning of Zionism,” he said.