Bennett Backtracks on Statement Backing Jewish Freedom of Worship on Temple Mount

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Members of the Israeli security forces stand guard, as a group of Orthodox Jews enter the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B'Av fast, on Sunday.
Members of the Israeli security forces stand guard, as a group of Orthodox Jews enter the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B'Av fast, on Sunday.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI - AFP

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett backpedaled Monday morning on statements he made a day earlier, in which he said Israel will preserve freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount. The statement deviated from Israel's status quo, in which Jews are banned from prayer on the site, which is Judaism's holiest and the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

"There is no change in the status quo," a Monday morning statement from Bennett's bureau read. It elaborated that the intention behind the message was that the right of Jews to visit – rather than to pray at – the Temple Mount would be preserved.

The far-right Religious Zionism party said in response that Bennett "folded" to pressure United Arab List MK Mansour Abbas, whose party condemend the visit of Jewish pilgrims to the mount on Sunday. "Once again, Mansour Abbas got mad, and once again, Bennett folded – this time on the Jewish right to worship on the Temple Mount," the party's statement said. "Sadly, the State of Israel is hostage to terror supporters."

Sunday marked Tisha B'Av, a fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples, and about 1,600 Jews visited the site to mark the holiday. Among the pilgrims were right-wing lawmakers Amichai Chikli and Yom Tov Halfon from Bennett's Yamina party. Palestinians clashed with police at the Temple Mount plaza, and officers said that several young men were arrested for throwing stones at police. 

Bennett had thanked Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai “for managing the events on the Temple Mount responsibly and with discretion, while preserving freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount. The prime minister stressed that freedom of worship will continue to be fully preserved for Muslims, who are marking the Day of Arafah and the Feast of the Sacrifice.”

The United Arab List party, who are Yamina's coalition partners, condemned the visit by Jewish worshipers to the Temple Mount on Sunday, saying that "The people of the UAL and the activists of the Islamic Movement will defend the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque with their bodies." It further said that it had tried to convince the government to stop the entry of Jewish visitors to the site.

The Palestinian Authority called the visit "a dangerous Israeli escalation." A statement issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' office said it was "a serious threat to the security and stability" and offensive to the feelings of Palestinians.

"The government of Israel bears responsibility for this escalation," the statement read, citing Joe Biden administration's request to uphold the status quo on the compound. 

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