National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has strongly encouraged Jews to visit the Temple Mount holy site during the upcoming Passover festival, which coincides with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims also visit the site.
At the same time, he dissuaded fringe groups from trying to carry out ritual sacrifices of lambs at the site ahead of Passover.
Ben Gvir, in an interview with Channel 12 on Sunday, said Jews have an obligation to visit the location of the two former Jewish temples.
“Jews must go up to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is not just for Arabs… It’s the most important place in the State of Israel. We won’t give up on it.”
Ramadan has often been marked by clashes and high tension between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly surrounding the sensitive holy site, with Muslims fearful that Jews are increasingly seeking to assert control over the Mount that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. Israel insists it maintains the status quo, whereby Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there. However, Jews have been visiting in growing numbers and have also increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there.
Meanwhile fringe groups have tried to carry out ritual sacrifices — a regular occurrence in the time of the ancient temples but hardly practiced today — but have so far been prevented by authorities from doing so.
Flyers have circulated in recent days calling on activists to bring a lamb onto the Temple Mount for the traditional pre-Passover sacrifice, and promising a financial reward for those arrested by police while making an attempt.
Asked whether he supported the attempts, Ben Gvir said he did not.
“Calm it,” he said to such activists. “I’m not encouraging people to go there with a Passover sacrifice.”
“Without a sacrifice — everyone can go.”
A group called Returning to the Mount makes a request each year to carry out the ritual, but to no avail.
Ben Gvir has long been an advocate for formally altering the Temple Mount status quo, in which Muslims are allowed to pray and enter with few restrictions, while Jews can visit only during limited time slots via a single gate and walk on a predetermined route, closely accompanied by police. Ben Gvir’s ministry oversees the police force.
Most Israeli security officials believe that permitting the Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount would spark fierce protests by Muslims in Jerusalem, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries, who would see it as a major change to the status quo on the holy site.
Shortly after taking office, Ben Gvir paid a visit to the Temple Mount in early January, which was strongly criticized by Israel’s Arab allies. He has yet to return, despite vowing to continue such visits.
Ben Gvir told Channel 12 that he did intend to visit the Temple Mount, but did not indicate when that would be, or if it would be during the upcoming Passover holiday, which begins Wednesday evening.
In 2006, Ben Gvir was stopped by police as he and a number of other far-right activists attempted to perform the Passover sacrifice, according to a Channel 13 news report from the time.
“Anywhere else it would be called antisemitic” to forbid Jews from performing the Passover sacrifice, Ben Gvir said at the time.
In 2017, Ben Gvir — then an attorney for a far-right legal defense group — represented a group of Returning to the Mount activists when they were arrested for planning to perform the Passover sacrifice.
Times of Israel staff and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.