Given the Temple Mount’s centrality in present political events, it is worth recalling what Yeshayahu Leibowitz said decades ago. There is a wonderful YouTube clip in which he meets a group of students, mostly religious Zionists, who sounded then like they were on the political fringe but are now the new mainstream.
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The youths discuss the Temple Mount’s importance in the relationship between Israel and God. He dismisses them with the confidence of adults who don’t shirk the responsibility of educating the young. “The archaeological remains on the Temple Mount have no significance for the connection between the people of Israel and their God,” he tells them. No significance, pure and simple. Telling them what they say is simple is actually incorrect.
He also sends a hinted insult to those who taught those youths the dangerous nonsense they are now spitting out with such arrogance. “There are actually some for whom it has significance, who turn it into a kind of national religious discotheque,” he says. (Is there a better, more precise way of describing what’s happening with the Temple Mount in our day?)
Even when the youths struggle to accept his argument, he doesn’t give up. He reminds them that “the First Temple stood 410 years, and Jeremiah the Prophet viewed it as a den of thieves. Nothing good came of it. The Second Temple stood 620 years.” Silence in the studio. And then, after a pregnant pause, he delivers the decisive, factual knockout blow: “Al-Aqsa has stood there 1,300 years.” Leibowitz’s message is crystal clear: “These things are not central to someone for whom Judaism is a living reality.”
The truth is that Leibowitz’s spirit hovers over the abyss that Israel is sinking into. The government of change is trying with all its might to put on the brakes, but who will they stop, themselves? Indeed, everything happening is much bigger than them. When Leibowitz said the occupation corrupts, he explained something structural about the occupation: It’s impossible to avoid it and no one is protected, including, it turns out, Labor leader Merav Michaeli and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who are going along with the renewal of the emergency regulations (which have lasted 55 years already), enabling apartheid in the territories.
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And really, this isn’t another diatribe about the left’s weakness, or about there being no difference between left and right, between Itamar Ben-Gvir and Omer Bar-Lev. You know what? There is a difference. Yeah, so what? How does this difference play out in reality? Who in this country can restrain the energy of the Flag March participants? Who in this country, in or out of the government, in the judicial sphere, in academia, in the media, in the business, spiritual or religious world, can stop this decline, the disintegration of society?
Who in Israel has the stature to cool down the mob shrieking, “I will take revenge, if only for one of my two eyes, on the Philistines, may their name be erased,” and “Death to the Arabs,” and “May your village burn down”?
Who can set straight the Samaria Brigade commander who said, “The settlements and the army are one and the same”? Who can stand up to the legions of settlers, against the religious Zionist meltdown of reality, against the present-day goal “to build a small synagogue on the Temple Mount,” or even against those speaking the language of “Jewish and democratic”?
In another video, Leibowitz explains the danger in turning nationalism into a program. Leibowitz described the future with the precision of someone who is describing what lays before their very eyes. He warned of “the road leading from humanity through nationalism to animalism.” It’s not even a prophecy, it is no more prophetic than saying Haifa Road leads to Haifa.
He added, “And this is the road that the German people truly followed until the end.” Then Leibowitz was quiet for a few moments and he smiled, like someone who knows exactly what is going through the interviewer’s head, and confirmed the thought: “And we got on this road after the Six-Day War.”