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Police chief: It was a ‘mistake’ to allow MKs on Temple Mount

Danino says politicians visiting the site ‘don’t know what they are igniting’; MK Feiglin says he’s being used as a ‘scapegoat’ to cover up security failings

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Police chief Yohanan Danino seen with Border Police officers after speaking to the press in Jerusalem, October 30, 2014. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Police chief Yohanan Danino seen with Border Police officers after speaking to the press in Jerusalem, October 30, 2014. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Israel’s head of police struck out Tuesday at Knesset members for stoking tensions by visiting the Temple Mount, and said Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had erred in allowing them access to the flashpoint site.

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino chided Knesset members who called for an alteration to the current arrangement under which non-Muslim worshipers can visit, but not pray at, the holy site. He maintained that there no efforts to change the status quo.

“I forbade [Likud MK] Feiglin from going to the Temple Mount until I lost the backing of the attorney general. It is a mistake to allow entry to those who are a symbol of changing the status quo,” Danino said in an address at the Sderot Conference for Society.

Danino’s comments came after weeks of riots and terror attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere, touched off in part by Palestinian fears that Israeli lawmakers would seek to change the status quo on the compound, called the Haram al-Sharif or al-Aqsa by Muslims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on several occasions that Israel had no intention of changing the status quo at the site.

Despite his apparent critique of the attorney general, the police commissioner later said that he did not intend to criticize Weinstein.

Danino railed against the right-wing “agenda” to change the Temple Mount status quo, which, despite lacking teeth, has raised tensions.

“We recognized, mostly after the elections, that members of the radical right took the Temple Mount and made it an agenda. We cautioned and said that we need to leave the Temple Mount alone — the Knesset members don’t understand what they are igniting.

“Obviously all the calls to change the status quo law has no practical efforts [standing behind them], but the statements themselves are doing something in the Muslim world,” he added.

The police commissioner emphasized that the government position since 1967, under which police detain non-Muslims seen praying, will not be altered.

Responding to the police chief’s remarks, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, a regular visitor to the sensitive site, defended his right to enter the Temple Mount and charged that the police chief had failed to contain the violence in the capital.

“Danino failed to protect Jerusalem and ensure the security of the citizens, and is now trying to find a scapegoat and excuses for his failure,” the Likud MK wrote on his Facebook page.

“I go up to pray on the Temple Mount, in accordance with the law, every month for the past 15 years. This is the legal, moral, national, and religious right of every Jew. I urge Danino to focus on the security of Jerusalem’s residents and Israeli citizens and to spend less time at panels and conferences in an effort to cast off his responsibility,” Feiglin added.

Hawkish MK Moshe Feiglin seen at the Western Wall on November 2, 2014, in the old city of Jerusalem.  (photo credit: Sindel/Flash90)
Hawkish MK Moshe Feiglin seen at the Western Wall on November 2, 2014, in the old city of Jerusalem. (photo credit: Sindel/Flash90)

The site — the holiest in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam — has been a source of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, which have led to a number of violent clashes, Palestinian acts of terrorism, and the attempted assassination of a Temple Mount activist in just under a month.

Since the attempted assassination on October 30 of activist Yehudah Glick, who agitated for Jewish prayer on the site, at least three right-wing politicians — Likud MKs Feiglin and Tzipi Hotovely and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Jewish Home party — have visited the site, claiming it as their democratic right and denouncing the double standard for Jewish and Muslim worshipers.

Under the terms of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the Temple Mount remains under Jordanian custodianship through the Waqf authorities, who maintain administrative charge of the holy site.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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