Thursday, November 20, 2014

Netanyahu and the Temple Mount Status Quo

Netanyahu and the Temple Mount Status Quo

- Rabbi Chaim Richman

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently based his Temple Mount policy on maintaining the pre-existing "status quo" that his government inherited concerning Jewish presence and prayer on the Temple Mount. He has stated repeatedly and forcefully to foreign leaders and representatives, and to local and international media alike that his policy is "No Change in the Status Quo," meaning Jews (and other non-Muslims) can freely enter the Temple Mount (during the limited hours that the Mount is open to non-Muslims), but Jews under no circumstances can pray on the Temple Mount.

It is important to mention that that status quo does not only refer to the non-allowance of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, but also to the general agreement that no changes of any sort should be implemented at the holy site. For example, the archaeological integrity of the Mount and the physical structures on the Mount should be preserved as is, and no changes should be made regarding any of the arrangements for visiting the Mount - arrangements that have been in place for many decades. The Muslim Wakf has never respected this understanding of the status quo. Recent years have seen massive underground construction of an illegal mosque on the Mount and the accompanying deliberate and relentless destruction of precious archaeological remains from the first and second Holy Temple, all performed under the administration of the Muslim Waqf. Successive Israeli governments have refrained from preventing or even addressing these violent violations of the oft-cited status quo. 

During the recent weeks of high tension on and around the Temple Mount, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been repeating his Temple Mount policy almost like a mantra: "No Change in the Status Quo." He has pledged this repeatedly to king Abdullah of Jordan.

Yet in the past two weeks, following Netanyahu's meetings in Amman, Jordan with king Abdullah and US secretary of state John Kerry, Jews ascending the Temple Mount have been limited in number by the police to groups of no more than five Jews on the Temple Mount at any given time. This blatant discrimination is itself a violation of the status quo. 

This change in the status quo not only contradicts Netanyahu's professed policy but it puts into practice a flagrant further discrimination against Jews hoping to ascend the Temple Mount. Not only are families and synagogue groups who have arrived with the intention of ascending the Mount together being broken up into groups of five, but hundreds of worshipers, after waiting hours to enter find themselves locked out when the three hour window of visiting rights allotted Jews under the "status qou" comes to a close for the day.

More and more Jews are expressing the desire to ascend the Temple Mount. More and more prominent rabbis are supporting the call to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. Prime Minister Netanyahu has resisted this historic sea-change and revolution in Jewish consciousness, wrapping himself in the mantle of guardian of the status quo, yet this new change in protocol betrays both his declared policy and the growing desire of the people of Israel to reconnect with the Temple Mount, the heart of Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel.

We call upon all Jews and non-Jews who stand for freedom of worship on the Temple Mount to voice their concerns publicly. We urge members of Knesset and government ministers who have been actively promoting the rights of Jews to enter and pray freely on the Temple Mount to address this drastic infringement upon the rights of Jews on the Temple Mount and to demand that Prime Minister Netanyahu rescind this new draconian and discriminatory twist in the "status quo."

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