The Knesset gained two new lawmakers on Wednesday, including the controversial Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, who called for an end to a ban on Jewish prayer at the holy site.
Glick, 50, has long campaigned for allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, a move that would overturn a five-decade-old status quo between Israel and the Muslim Waqf, and could inflame tensions and lead to fresh violence.
“As long as I’m here,” he said in his swearing-in speech in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday as he took former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon spot on the Likud list, “I will do all that is in my power to end the injustice that takes place every day at the holiest place in the world, where police officers are under orders to check whether a 90-year-old Jew is, God forbid, moving his lips or not.”
The US-born rabbi, a resident of the Otniel settlement in the southern West Bank, visited the Temple Mount on Monday morning, just before his Knesset term went into effect. The move drew criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly told the freshman lawmaker, “Don’t do that to me again.”
In a bid to quell tensions over the holy site that helped spark months of Palestinian terror attacks and protests in the West Bank, Netanyahu has ordered political leaders to refrain from visiting the mount, a policy Glick has said he would adhere to once in office.
Netanyahu has vowed to keep the status quo banning Jewish prayer at the holy site in place, as the merest rumors of changes to regulations in the compound, revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, has led to flare-ups of Palestinian violence.
In his speech Wednesday, Glick, who survived an assassination attempt in 2014, criticized Muslim officials at the site for inciting terror.
“I can’t accept that the world’s center of peace, goodness and light continues to be used as a center for incitement to terror. Over the past year, the minister of public security, in cooperation with the justice minister and with the backing of the prime minister, expelled the inciters from the Temple Mount. And what a surprise, when you remove the neighborhood bully, the violence declines,” he said.
The statement was a reference to a ban on groups of Muslim men and women accused by police of harassing Jewish visitors to the site.
He reiterated his opposition to a Palestinian state, saying the idea “has passed from this world.”
Glick styled himself “an official representative of the ‘Yesha’ district,” a reference to the acronym for the Hebrew names of the West Bank and Gaza, telling MKs he intentionally included Gaza, the Hamas-ruled coastal strip from which Israel withdrew in 2005.
The second lawmaker to enter the Knesset Wednesday is another 50-year-old rabbi. Yaakov Asher, of the United Torah Judaism list, was sworn in after Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush left the Knesset under “Norwegian Law” rules that allow one lawmaker in each party to resign their seat in favor of a ministerial post.
Unlike Glick, Asher is not a parliamentary neophyte, having served in the last Knesset from 2013 to 2015. He formerly was mayor of the majority-Haredi Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak.
Asher used his swearing-in speech to recall the tensions between ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and the Yesh Atid party in the previous Knesset, and praised his own community as devoted servants of the public good.
“In the last term, there was a war against the Haredi public and against its emissaries in the Knesset, an attempt to delegitimize the Haredi public — and especially its leaders and representatives — as people who don’t contribute, whose only goal is to help their own community,” he charged.
“A year and a half have passed, and many of those [Haredi] MKs are ranked among the most popular and respected ministers, committee chairmen and efficient and diligent MKs,” he boasted. “[Haredi MKs] carry out their duties with devotion and responsibility for all members of the public, because to be a public servant who cares for the poor, the sick and the needy is not an empty slogan [for them], or a campaign tagline. It’s a divine commandment.”