Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon joined Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday in blasting rightist Knesset members and ministers for fanning tensions in Jerusalem by visiting the Temple Mount.
“We can’t ignore the fact that some of these incidents occurred, unfortunately, as part of an exploitation of some ministers’ and MKs’ visits to the Temple Mount,” Ya’alon said in an excerpted interview to a Channel 10 political show, the full-length version of which will be aired Saturday.
“It is our right to go to the Temple Mount. Jews have and will access it. But there’s a very sensitive status quo that is part of an agreement with Jordan and it must be maintained,” said Ya’alon.
“It’s true that [the Palestinians] are interpreting these visits as acts of provocations and [using them] as an excuse for incitement. But we must not add fuel to the fire,” he said.
Since the Temple Mount reopened to Jewish visitors last week, following a one-day closure after the attempted assassination of Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick and the killing of his shooter in an arrest operation, three right-wing politicians — MKs Moshe Feiglin, Tzipi Hotovely and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli — have visited the site, claiming it as their democratic right and denouncing the double standard for Jewish and Muslim worshipers.
“It’s [Feiglin’s] right to go [to the Temple Mount.] But when someone does it with an online PR campaign while publicly challenging the status quo, of course that’s incitement,” said Ya’alon.
The compound was briefly closed to all visitors, including Muslim worshipers, after Glick, a Jewish right-wing activist known for his campaign to allow Jewish prayer at the site, was shot. The attacker, Mu’taz Hijazi, who also had connections to a terrorist organization, was killed in a firefight with police when they tried to arrest him in the Abu Tor neighborhood the morning following the shooting.
Liberman on Thursday called the visits “stupid.”
“I think it’s the pursuit of cheap and easy publicity and a somewhat cynical exploitation of the complicated political situation,” said Liberman, a right-winger himself who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party. “And let’s say it this way: it’s a lack of wisdom” on the part of the right-wing MKs.
“Increasing the friction won’t bring security; it won’t bring anything,” he told Israel Radio.
The Temple Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque — where recent clashes between Israel Police and Palestinians have escalated tensions in the city — and is revered by Jews as the location of the biblical Jewish temples. It is considered Judaism’s holiest place and Islam’s third holiest site.
Under the present arrangement, the site remains under Jordan’s custodianship — as part of the 1994 peace agreement — and Jews are allowed in the compound, but are barred from religious worship or prayer, as they have been since Israel captured the Old City in the 1967 war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed in past days that there will be no change to the present arrangement, and spoke Thursday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to reiterate his stance.
Earlier Friday, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef called for Jewish visitors to stop accessing the Temple Mount in order to restore calm to the capital after weeks of violence and religious clashes surrounding the holy site.
“We need to stop the incitement provoked by people going to the Temple Mount,” Yitzhak said at the funeral of 17-year-old Shalom Ba’adani, who was critically injured in Wednesday’s car attack in Jerusalem and died of his wounds Friday.
“Jews must not go to the Temple Mount and provoke the Arab terrorists,” he said. “This must be stopped…only in this manner shall the blood of the people of Israel stop being spilled.”
Yosef reiterated the belief held by many senior Jewish figures that visiting the Temple Mount is forbidden by God.
“Fourth-rate rabbis cannot dispute (the rulings of) the sages of Israel,” Yosef stated.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett hit back at Yosef on Friday, publishing a post on Facebook admonishing him.
“No, honorable chief rabbi. Jewish blood was spilled because Arabs killed them,” Bennett wrote Friday afternoon.
Likud MK Feiglin also criticized the rabbi’s comments, calling the Temple Mount “the most sacred place for the Jewish people, the heart of hearts of our capital.”
“If we withdraw from there, where will we be?” he said, according to Israel Radio, adding that Jewish prayer at the site is necessary.
Tensions in the capital have been boiling in recent weeks, with East Jerusalem and West Bank residents demonstrating and rioting in response to their fears that Israel seeks to change the status quo of the Temple Mount and allow Jews to pray there.
The situation has also led to several Palestinian terror attacks and the assassination attempt against Glick.
Netanyahu instructed officials Thursday to demolish the homes of the terrorists who had perpetrated the two attacks in Jerusalem, according to Israel Radio.
The prime minister’s directive came a day al-Akry drove his van into a group of pedestrians at a light rail station in the capital, killing a Druze Border Police officer and Ba’adani and injuring a dozen other people. A similar hit-and-run attack took place two weeks earlier at another train station along the seam-line when an East Jerusalem man drove his car onto a platform, killing two, including a three-month old, and injuring several. Both attackers were killed by police.
On October 29, Glick was shot outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in central Jerusalem.
On Thursday evening, dozens of right-wing Jewish activists marched toward the Old City, as heavy clashes between police and Arab residents of East Jerusalem persisted.