Temple Mount Extremists Making Inroads in Both Knesset and Israeli Government

Netanyahu is appalled at the possibility that Temple Mount activists will become part of the governing faction, but their agenda is already voiced by some ministers.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Illustration by Amos Biderman.
Illustration by Amos Biderman.Credit: Illustration
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

A regular guest at the weekly meetings of the Likud Knesset faction is Yehudah Glick, the personification of the movement calling for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount and to rebuild the temple there.

Glick is two moves away from a seat in the Knesset, and he could enter it as early as next week, thanks to the “little Norwegian law” – a cynical distortion and typical Israeli manipulation of the form of government in enlightened Norway. All that’s needed for Glick and Amir Ohana to enter the parliament is for two ministers from their Likud party to resign from the Knesset. That’s not likely to happen, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appalled at the possibility that a Temple Mount activist will become part of the governing faction. Aren’t Miri Regev and Tzipi Hotovely enough?

This, by the way, is the reason that Netanyahu wasn’t enthusiastic about introducing the amendment that allows ministers to resign from the Knesset in favor of the next person on their party’s slate. But he was forced to surrender to the demand of Habayit Hayehudi. To the extent that it’s up to him, though, only force majeure, in the form of two visits by the Angel of Death in the faction, will allow Glick to enter the House.

Still, Glick is only one example of a growing phenomenon in the country, in which the margins become the center, the delusional extreme becomes mainstream. If once it was only Gershon Salomon, leader of the Temple Mount Faithful, and a few others, today Temple Mount activists have made serious inroads in both the Knesset and the government, particularly in Likud.

The mount became a major item on the agenda in 2013, when Moshe Feiglin was elected to the Knesset on Likud’s slate. The chairperson of the Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee at the time, MK Miri Regev, nagged the police incessantly over the Temple Mount issue. Feiglin was perceived as delusionary, Regev as a raucous populist.

Now the dam has burst. Regev is culture and sports minister; Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), who a year ago stated that Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount, is justice minister. Her party colleague, the messianic Uri Ariel, a regular visitor to the mount and the mirror image of MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List), is a minister for the second time. Immigrant Absorption and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) was spotted walking on the Temple Mount with his wife and a stroller.

To the Palestinians, these people are both symbols and official voices of the government of Israel.

This week we discovered that, like Martin Luther King, Jr., – only the total opposite – Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister, also has a dream. As though she were a high-school romantic and not Israel’s senior diplomat, she said in a TV interview that her dream is to plant the Israeli flag on the Temple Mount.

Within less than an hour, Netanyahu was on the line, fuming. He told his deputy in the Foreign Ministry to put a lid on it and stop sharing images from her subconscious with the people of Israel. Hotovely duly issued a clarification in which she humbly accepted the prime minister’s view that there will be no change in the status quo on the mount. In the same breath, however, she made it clear she would not forgo her “aspirations and dreams.” That’s legitimate, just as it’s legitimate for the Palestinians to declare their aspiration for Al-Quds to become their capital – a wish that Israel takes as proof that the Palestinians are bent on war, not peace.

Apropos aspirations, this week we learned that MK Yinon Magal (Habayit Hayehudi) also some of his own. In a Knesset speech he disclosed two of them: for Jews to be able to pray on the Temple Mount and for a new temple to be built there, ASAP. Magal was brought into his party by its leader, Naftali Bennett, and guaranteed a convenient place on the slate, as a secular, moderate, rational and affable fellow. He was meant to offset the party’s Hardali (referring to a combination of ultra-Orthodox and national-religious) image, which was preventing Bennett from painting the party in all-inclusive hues. Suddenly, Magal too has become a mystic who has experienced enlightenment and aspires to see a Third Temple standing proudly atop the mount instead of Al-Aqsa.

His intentions are quite transparent. In the next election, Magal will not be parachuted to a high place on the slate; he’ll have to run in a primary and make the rounds among the settlements and yeshivas, scrounging for votes so he will win a respectable place on the slate and another Knesset term. That entails a change of image, a sharp rightward shift, and if that involves adopting the Temple Mount, so be it.

After we’ve convinced ourselves that the hullabaloo over the Temple Mount is the result of baseless and evil incitement, we’ll do well to look in the mirror for a moment. The rage and the suspicion that are sparking Palestinian hatred and aggression are in large measure our own doing. No Palestinian will believe that Ariel or Hotovely has been rebuked by Netanyahu after another provocative show on the mount or declarations about it. When the Palestinians hear ministers, deputy ministers and members of the coalition prattling day and night about the Temple Mount, the Temple Mount and the Temple Mount – their fear that these people are speaking from Netanyahu’s throat and that the status quo is about to be changed, is understandable.

No more apologies

Knesset veterans and regular guests can hardly remember such a political, virulent and unstatesmanlike speech being delivered by the leader of the opposition at the annual memorial session for Yitzhak Rabin. MK Isaac Herzog not only took off the gloves, he put on brass knuckles to batter Netanyahu. He gave himself free rein, as if he had nothing to lose, drawing a direct link between the incitement that Netanyahu and his cohorts did nothing to curb, and the assassination.

“You, who called him a traitor, pretended not to hear when people called him a traitor,” Herzog said. Whom did he mean by “you” (using the plural)? Of all those who crowded onto the balcony in Zion Square in Jerusalem at the height of the incitement against Rabin and the Oslo accords in October 1995, exactly one month before the assassination, Netanyahu was the only politician in the Knesset chamber this week.

Rabin was “Mr. Responsibility,” Herzog continued. “As for you, Mr. Netanyahu, polarizing fear is deeply ingrained in all your speeches and decisions. In contrast to the leadership of Mr. Responsibility, your leadership is turning out to be ‘Mr. who-will-I-pass-the-buck-to today’ Rabin tried to remove the territories from Israel Rabin tried, and all of you on the balcony heard him being called a traitor, and then came three pistol shots: Yitzhak Rabin was murdered.”

I asked Herzog what came over him. “There is a great deal of artificiality in these memorial events,” he replied. “A year ago, on Mount Herzl, Bibi used the state ceremony to speak only about Iran. Rabin was barely mentioned. I told myself that it can’t go on like this, that the time has come to speak the truth. To remove the masks.”

Added Herzog: “And I didn’t even know that Netanyahu would assert that morning [this past Monday], in a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, that we will live by the sword eternally. I wanted to present an alternative. Bibi is leading us to Masada. That’s his line. And I’m fed up with apologizing for 20 years for Rabin having tried to separate us from the Palestinians.”

I noted that he mentioned the balcony in Zion Square, when Netanyahu and other Likud and right-wing leaders stood opposite posters portraying Rabin in an S.S. uniform. “Yes, the time for that has come, too,” Herzog said. “Netanyahu has to do some soul-searching over the role he played in that period on the eve of the assassination. He needs to look in the mirror and ask himself some hard questions.”

On the other hand, I put it to Herzog, he himself has spoken about the need to proceed “with joint forces to a courageous, great correction in our path that will lead us to secure, recognized and defined borders for Israel.” Weren’t you hinting at a national unity government, I asked.

“What I said,” Herzog explained, “is that if Netanyahu changes his policy and decides that instead of the dead end and the perdition to which he is leading us, he will embark on a courageous and dramatic historic move, of the sort that Rabin did – he will find a partner in us. That statement bore not political significance, but rather national.”

They also serve

Here’s another example of Israeli governance at its finest. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has never gotten along with his deputies. He fought bitterly with Danny Danon, he squabbled endlessly with Gilad Erdan (who was a full-fledged minister but tried to obtain authority to deal with the home front in wartime).

In the present coalition, MK Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi) was parachuted into the office of the deputy defense minister. Ben-Dahan was the director of the rabbinical courts for 21 years, the perfect background for dealing with matters of national security.

In the past, the position of deputy defense minister was held by former senior army officers, but for a long time – predating the Netanyahu era – it’s been cheapened. The job generally goes to some nonentity who’s given a few “powers” that any junior clerk could deal with before lunch. The main thing is that on Wednesdays, the deputy replies to motions for the agenda in the Knesset, sparing the minister that headache.

This week, Channel 2 reported that deputy attorney general Dina Zilber, had asked Ya’alon to reprimand Ben-Dahan for taking part in an illegal demonstration in the Mount Hebron area. Ya’alon replied that if the details were correct, he would definitely reprimand his deputy. In the meantime, he left for the United States, to hold key talks with the secretary of defense and ranking Pentagon officials.

Ben-Dahan was furious at Zilber, Ya’alon and everyone in sight. He and Ya’alon spoke by phone on Wednesday to sort things out. His boss told him, from Washington, that if his version of the events was indeed correct, the story constituted “journalistic manipulation.”

Ben-Dahan was not mollified. Maybe the yearning for the Temple Mount is agitating him. “Ya’alon was in the United States for a few days,” his confidants said. “Instead of dealing with the important agreement with the Americans, he devoted two days, with three of his advisers, exclusively to the story of Rabbi Ben-Dahan. He is dealing with personal issues instead of crucial subjects. Ben-Dahan is an affable person, it’s hard to quarrel with him, but Ya’alon just has to quarrel with everyone.”

In any properly run country and any normal government, that deputy minister would immediately be summoned to the minister to clarify matters and might also be fired. But not in these parts. On Ya'alon's return to Israel yesterday, his office told Haaretz that, "we're too busy with work to deal with nonsense."

Clear and present danger

Last Saturday evening, MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) was a guest on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” along with MKs Zehava Galon (Meretz) and Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union). When Galon mentioned Rabin’s name, Yogev expressed his great admiration for the slain prime minister and added, “Rabin was my commanding officer.”

An honor for Rabin! The only problem is that Rabin left the army in 1968, when Yogev was 12 years old. Mixing reality and fantasy is the least of Yogev’s problems; there is someone more senior than him in the political world that specializes in that.

The man who rose to the rank of colonel in the army and served as the secretary general of the national-religious Bnei Akiva youth movement, is now the No. 1 inciter against the Supreme Court. Under the head-covering of his parliamentary immunity, Yogev threatened in the past to send a bulldozer to level the court. A week ago, he claimed that Justice Uzi Fogelman had “placed himself on the side of the enemy” for deciding to delay for a few days the demolition of terrorists’ homes. Because of him, Fogelman now has bodyguards. Each such statement gets Yogev lots of air-time. Two days later, it’s all gone and forgotten, until the next time.

Yogev has a quiet, soft, pleasant voice, and his exterior projects respectability and grandfatherly niceness. He’s not vulgar and crude like Likud MKs Oren Hazan or Yaron Mazuz. But he’s the most dangerous and the scariest of the lot. In his constituency – the extremist settlements – he’s considered an educational authority. One day someone from those hilltops who listens to him is liable to take action, and a Supreme Court justice will find himself or herself being savagely beaten on the way home from work.

Yogev’s arguments are infantile. “Our calamity,” a senior member of his Knesset faction called him this week. Their calamity? What about ours? His party colleagues generally don’t bother to dissociate themselves from the nonsense he spouts, but their leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, was quick to explain disdain for Yogev’s latest remark. “The court is not the enemy of the people,” he told a rally of youth movements.

It took the justice minister, Shaked, longer to speak out. At first she defended the Supreme Court with the weak argument that it acts quickly. Finally, on Wednesday, in the Knesset plenum, she deigned to say that the court is not the enemy of the people. She didn’t mention her colleague Yogev. Maybe she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Or maybe she didn’t want his supporters ganging up on her.

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