Netanyahu agrees things must change on Temple Mount, says Likud activist
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InterviewYehudah Glick: While not promising 'freedom of worship' for Jews, PM said the current situation in which Jews are harassed is untenable

Netanyahu agrees things must change on Temple Mount, says Likud activist

PM is unhappy with current arrangements at powder-keg holy site, says Yehudah Glick, whose bid to enable Jewish prayer there led to an attempt on his life last year

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, No. 33 on the Likud list, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on August 19, 2015. (Courtesy: Yehuda Glick)
Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, No. 33 on the Likud list, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on August 19, 2015. (Courtesy: Yehuda Glick)

Next month, surrounded by friends and family, Yehudah Glick will be celebrating the first anniversary of having survived an assassination attempt that left him critically wounded on a Jerusalem sidewalk not far from the Old City. As he looks back, the iconic Temple Mount activist will have much to be thankful for.

When Mu’taz Hijazi approached him outside the Menachem Begin Center on October 29, firing four bullets into his torso at point-blank range as he apologized to the “enemy of al-Aqsa,” Glick was a fringe activist, known primarily to the ideological right. Today, he stands a realistic chance of entering the Knesset on the Likud slate and has the ear of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his police minister Gilad Erdan.

“God was kind to me,” Glick told The Times of Israel this week.

For years, the 49-year-old rabbi who heads the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation has been a vociferous advocate for the right of Jews to pray on Temple Mount. But his voice hardly reached mainstream Israel before the political assassination attempt. Now, that relative obscurity is history.

On August 19, Glick met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a one-on-one meeting that lasted over half an hour to discuss the situation on Temple Mount, as well as Glick’s own political aspirations. At the meeting, he said, Netanyahu was not only “warm and understanding,” but also politically supportive of Glick’s cause.

Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick at his home in Jerusalem, March 12, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick at his home in Jerusalem, March 12, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I told him I was not coming to be a troublemaker. On the contrary, I am part of a team, and I will support his success as prime minister,” said Glick, who has been a member of the ruling Likud party since 1997. “We feel that this government, more than any government in the past, is attuned to the needs of Jews [on Temple Mount]. I hope we will see the results of that.”

Glick used the meeting as an opportunity to present Netanyahu with a small new book published by his organization. Replete with colorful photographs and diagrams, “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. A donor has promised to match a $10,000 online crowdsourcing campaign for the book that Glick’s organization launched last week.

The guidebook, penned to encourage visits by Jews and non-Jews to Temple Mount, challenges the status quo established in 1967 by then-defense minister Moshe Dayan that enshrines the site as a place of worship for Muslims and a tourist site for all others, banning Jewish prayer. The book highlights the dual purpose of Western tourism to the Mount both as a form of religious pilgrimage and as a political statement.

“By ascending the Temple Mount,” the book reads on page 43, “you will have an opportunity to satisfy your curiosity, to touch and feel the holiness of the place chosen by the Lord, and to fulfill the commandment of showing honor to the Temple. You will also make your own contribution to the movement to achieve complete freedom of worship.”

According to Glick, Netanyahu, while not promising “freedom of worship” for Jews on the site, acknowledged that the current situation — in which Jews are harassed and heckled by local male and female Muslim activists, known respectively as Murabitun and Murabitat — is untenable.

“He is very disturbed by the situation,” Glick said of Netanyahu, adding that the prime minister fully backs his public security minister in barring the female activists from Temple Mount during morning visiting hours since last week.

Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick hands Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a copy of the guidebook Arise and Ascend on August 19, 2015 (courtesy Yehuda Glick)
Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick hands Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a copy of the guidebook Arise and Ascend on August 19, 2015 (courtesy Yehuda Glick)

“He [Netanyahu] said that they [the Muslim activists] must be driven out of there. On the other hand, he discussed all the political ramifications with me. He told me in no uncertain terms that this situation cannot continue, and that he is facing the State Attorney’s Office and all the security organizations to solve the issue.”

By “this situation,” Netanyahu was referring not only to the harassment of observant Jews on Temple Mount, Glick said, but also to the limited visiting hours for tourists: four and a half hours a day in summer and three and a half in winter.

Netanyahu has stated repeatedly that he has no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount to allow for Jewish prayer there.

“We cannot compare the situation in the past when hardly ten Jews ascended to Temple Mount to today when hundreds and thousands want to go up,” Glick said. “He [Netanyahu] said the situation should be reevaluated. He is open to ideas. He certainly said he is prepared to consider any idea that would contribute to the reduction of friction. We discussed all kinds of possible directions.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, during the former's surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, during the former’s surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)

Glick declined to elaborate on the specifics of the ideas discussed with the prime minister, nor would he address the extent of pressure exerted by Jordan, which claims a political role on the site and employs the Islamic attendees active on Temple Mount.

The removal by police of the female Muslim activists from Temple Mount during morning visiting hours is considered a significant achievement by Glick and his fellow activists. He said that could be the first step in partitioning visiting hours on Temple Mount between Jews and Muslims, paving the way for Jewish worship on the site.

“I feel there is a new guiding spirit in the police. Minister Erdan is completely different than [former] minister [Yitzhak] Aharonovitch. He initiates activities, understands the messy situation, and is attuned to us,” Glick said. “He wants to advance the situation, but we all realize that it’s not a matter of one day. The only thing that can bring about change is an increased Jewish presence on the Mount. [We need] more pressure from crowds going up and from tourists witnessing the situation.”

Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan, seen during a visit to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, July 31, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan, seen during a visit to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 31, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Occupying the 33rd spot on Likud’s Knesset slate, Glick may soon find himself serving in the Israeli parliament. On Wednesday, September 2, Sharren Haskel, number 31 in Likud, will be sworn in as member of Knesset, replacing Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. A Likud minister is also likely to resign during the next Knesset session under the “Norwegian Law,” paving the way in for number 32, Amir Ohana. That would leave Glick first in line.

“I don’t know if it will happen tomorrow, in two months, or not at all,” Glick said of his prospects of entering the Knesset. “If God wants me there, I’ll be there, and not a moment sooner.”

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