The new hard-line Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is now responsible for the Israeli police, visited the holiest place in Judaism, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, on Tuesday, and controversy erupted.
Tuesday marked the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet, the day on which religious Jews fast to commemorate the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar roughly 2,600 years ago that ultimately led to the destruction of the Biblical First Temple on the Mount.
On Sunday, the terrorist group Hamas threatened Israel if Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount. “The extremist Ben-Gvir is trying to convince his voters that he is implementing his promises by breaking into Al-Aqsa (Mosque),” Hamas official Harun Nasser El-Din snapped, then called the Israeli government the “government of the occupation: “We hold the government of the occupation responsible for any escalation if there is damage to Al-Aqsa (Mosque) or to our people who are clinging to Jerusalem. We call on our people to protect Al-Aqsa (Mosque), and we are sure that our people will thwart all attempts to impose a new reality on Al-Aqsa (Mosque).”
“The Israeli government of which I am a member will not surrender to a vile murdering organization,” Ben-Gvir tweeted. “The Temple Mount is open to everyone and if Hamas thinks that if it threatens me it will deter me, let them understand that times have changed. There is a government in Jerusalem!”
ממשלת ישראל שאני חבר בה לא תיכנע לארגון מרצחים שפל. הר הבית פתוח לכולם ואם החמאס חושב שאם הוא יאיים עליי זה ירתיע אותי, שיבינו שהשתנו הזמנים. יש ממשלה בירושלים! pic.twitter.com/vgDYBYacJG
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) January 3, 2023
“Our government will not surrender to the threats of Hamas,” Ben-Gvir also declared on Tuesday. “The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel, and we maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews will also visit the site. Those who make threats must be dealt with an iron hand.”
Condemnation from those who would deny Jews access to pray at their holiest place came quickly:
“The repeated Israeli threats to change the historical status quo in the Aqsa Mosque would have serious consequences for everyone,” Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said, adding that the Palestinians oppose allowing Jews to pray at Judaism’s holiest site, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry even accused Ben-Gvir, who was simply walking on the Temple Mount for 15 minutes, of “storming the site,” declaring the Ministry “strongly condemns the storming of Al-Aqsa mosque by the extremist minister Ben-Gvir and views it as an unprecedented provocation and a dangerous escalation of the conflict.”
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, not to be outdone, echoed, “Jordan condemns in the severest of terms the storming of the Aqsa mosque and violating its sanctity.”
The United Arab Emirates joined in, saying it “reiterated its firm position on the need to provide full protection for the Al-Aqsa mosque and halt serious and provocative violations taking place there.”
Unsurprisingly, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Israel said of the Biden administration’s ambassador to Israel, “Ambassador Nides has been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites. Actions that prevent that are unacceptable.”
A spokesperson for the Biden White House National Security Council echoed, “The United States stands firmly for preservation of the status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. Any unilateral action that jeopardizes the status quo is unacceptable.”
But a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office rebuffed the claim that Ben-Gvir’s visit disturbed the “status quo,” saying:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to strictly maintaining the status quo, without changes, on the Temple Mount. We will not be dictated to by Hamas. Under the status quo, ministers have gone up to the Temple Mount in recent years, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan; therefore, the claim that a change has been made in the status quo is without foundation.
“Jews ascending & praying at the Temple Mount in #Jerusalem is the most natural of acts,” Yishai Fleisher, the spokesman for Hebron, the second holiest city for Jews, stated. “The real status quo is that this place has been the heart of our peoplehood for 3K years. Minister @itamarbengvir on the Mount today fought the terrorists and asserted our basic human rights.”
Jews ascending & praying at the Temple Mount in #Jerusalem is the most natural of acts. The real status quo is that this place has been the heart of our peoplehood for 3K years. Minister @itamarbengvir on the Mount today fought the terrorists and asserted our basic human rights. pic.twitter.com/1Qn0L2dPSZ
— Yishai Fleisher يشاي ישי פליישר 🕎 (@YishaiFleisher) January 3, 2023
The notion that Jews should not be able to visit the holiest site in Judaism is absurd https://t.co/gSRBnlCs2a
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 3, 2023
In September, the Biden administration had signaled that it wanted to blunt any rightward turn by Israel in the event that Netanyahu returned to power, singling out Ben-Gvir as “a huge problem for us.”
A Biden administration official said the White House would be “troubled by the possibility” that Ben-Gvir, a hardline conservative and the head of the Right-wing party Otzma Yehudit, might become a minister in the future Israeli government, according to Israel HaYom.