No Religious Freedom For Jews on Temple Mount

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While Jews around the world were marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, trust The Guardian to publish an opinion piece advocating against freedom of religion at Judaism’s holiest site.

Dr Giles Fraser of St Mary’s Newington church in south London explains in “An Israeli claim to Temple Mount would trigger unimaginable violence,” the orthodox theology that posits that religious Jews are forbidden from walking on the Temple Mount. He states that “Jewish access to Temple Mount has been strictly forbidden (by religious, not secular, law) for centuries” as if this is universally representative of Judaism as a whole.

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He also repeats the myth that “It was Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount on 28 September 2000 that sparked the second intifada.” This, despite the fact that even prominent Palestinians have admitted that the violence was premediated and not a direct result of Sharon’s visit.

Fraser continues:

But as Israel continues its shift to the right, these dangerous voices are now entering the political mainstream. Back in March, the housing and construction minister Uri Ariel, who advocates the rebuilding of the Temple, visited the site as a “tourist”. In April, Knesset member Miri Regev emphasised: “I do not understand why a Jew is not allowed to pray in the most sacred place for him – the Temple Mount.” Religious services minister, Naftali Bennett, has announced he will work for legislation guaranteeing Jewish access. And the notoriously hardline Likud politician, settler and Knesset member Moshe Feiglin – who believes Israel ought to annex all of the West Bank and Gaza – stepped up the pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu in a speech in New York last week, calling on him to restore Jewish sovereignty over the site.

Firstly, as Israel’s most recent election results showed, the country has not continued “its shift to the right.” In fact, left and right were virtually equal in the last vote.

Secondly, Fraser attempts to use right-wing politicians to skewer what is effectively an issue of freedom of religion and worship. While he may not agree with Miri Regev’s politics, why exactly does he take issue with her quote? As for Moshe Feiglin, it is difficult to see how a fringe politician within the Likud could possibly step up the pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu.

It appears that Fraser does not follow Israeli politics very closely. If he did, he would know that Netanyahu actually barred Feiglin from the Temple Mount, which caused Feiglin to suspend himself from the governing coalition. This should tell Fraser that not only is Feiglin not in a position to put pressure on Netanyahu but the Israeli PM is apparently committed to avoiding any actions on the Temple Mount that could cause any conflict.

Fraser, referring to calls to restore Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount, concludes:

It would be hard to overstate how dangerous an idea this is. The vast majority of orthodox rabbis have reiterated their opposition to it. But the settler mentality is now increasingly focusing on what is politically the most explosive site on the planet. If they succeed, a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic.

What exactly is “the settler mentality?” The Temple Mount is the holiest site for all Jews, irrespective of their political or religious leanings. As for a billion Muslims going ballistic, perhaps Fraser should ask himself why it is that this threat of violence on the part of Muslims should be excused or blamed on the Jews? The Cave of the Machpela in Hebron, holy to both Jews and Muslims, has shared prayer arrangements for both communities. Yet, it is only Muslim-administered holy sites that it are deemed acceptable to prevent non-Muslims from praying there.

Fraser also demonstrates gross hypocrisy, apparently picking and choosing between Jewish religious theologies depending on what suits him. So, while he advocates for an orthodox position on the Temple Mount, he seemingly supports religious inclusion as illustrated by this tweet:

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Giles Fraser cannot have it both ways. Is he really interested in theology or politics?

The issue of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount is a complicated one. It is possible to agree, in principle, with Jewish access to the Temple Mount, yet still oppose it in practice to avoid creating political tensions and potential violence. Fraser, however, seems to have latched on to a theological position to back up his political opinion. In doing so, he has created a religious and political muddle, confusing political sovereignty with religious freedom.

You can send your considered comments to The Guardian – letters@guardian.co.uk


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