Shas Lawmaker: Continue Barring Jewish and Arab MKs From Temple Mount

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen's call comes as plans are considered to lift the eight-month ban on visits by Knesset members.

MK Tzipi Hotovely visiting the Temple Mount in 2014.
Ezra Gabay

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party on Tuesday called on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to continue to bar Knesset members, both Jewish and Arab, from visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem even though the Israel Police has decided that the ban should be lifted.

The Temple Mount – the site of the two Jewish Temples in the past and now of two major Muslim structures, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – has been a source of tension between Muslims and Jews. On Tuesday, the Knesset Ethics Committee is due to convene to allow Muslim Knesset members to pray within a week on the mount in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The committee is expected to allow Jewish Knesset members to visit the mount within two weeks.

However, Cohen said allowing visits by MKs is not a reflection of a religious need but rather a political one that could reignite tensions over the mount. “There is a strict halakhic [Jewish religious law] prohibition on Jewish MKs visiting the Temple Mount,” said Cohen, “and most of the Arab MKs are not religious and their only goal is to stir things up on the ground, which is already too explosive.

“I call [on the MKs] to show responsibility and continue the ban on visits to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is not a political site and not a Hyde Park for brawling and provocation. The holy Temple Mount is the site of our First and Second Temples, and the Third Temple will be built there. As a result, there is no place for inciters of alien fire,” he warned.

About 10 days ago, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, along with the head of the Jerusalem district police, met with Edelstein to consider Muslim MKs’ request to ascend the mount during Ramadan despite the ban on such visits issued by the police chief eight months ago.

At the meeting, Alsheich said that based on a revised situation assessment, the Muslim MKs could be allowed to make such visits within a week for Ramadan prayer. Following an additional police situation assessment, it is also expected that Jewish MKs will be allowed to visit the mount about a week or two weeks later.

As a result, the Knesset Ethics Committee, which issued its own ban based on Alsheich’s earlier decision, is to convene to consider approval of new procedures.

MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint Arab List approached Edelstein on reconsidering the Knesset’s policy. In response, the Knesset speaker contacted the police and the Knesset Ethics Committee seeking to have the ban lifted.

Jabareen said his request related primarily to Arab MKs who wish to pray on the mount during Ramadan. “It is unacceptable to continue this ban over such an extended period of time. That does the most serious kind of harm to MKs’ immunity and rights, as well as their freedom of religion and movement,” he said. “I don’t see any provocation in Arab Knesset members seeking to enter a mosque and pray there, and there is no comparison between these visits and the provocations of right-wing MKs seeking to change the status quo at the site and support visits by settlers in the mosque and their praying there.”

At the beginning of the month, Joint List MK Talab Abu Arar told the Knesset that he intended to visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan despite the ban against MKs. Other Joint List MKs also approached Edelstein on the issue several weeks ago, saying that they intended to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On Monday, the chairwoman of the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset faction, Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, whose party’s core constituency is Orthodox Jewish voters, expressed the desire to visit the mount as soon as that would be possible. “The view that MKs should be prevented from going to the Temple Mount when the main and exclusive cause for the tension is Palestinian incitement, is mistaken,” she said. “Clearly the visit by Jewish elected officials to the mount would constitute a pretext to increase the incitement, but we cannot give in. This is the holiest site of the Jewish people.”