The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) this week sent a sharply critical letter to Knesset members government ministers, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding that Jews have the right to “unfettered access and freedom” to pray on the Temple Mount (Har Habayit). The Mount, the letter says, “and not the Western Wall (Kotel) is Judaism's holiest site. More Jews have wanted to visit the Temple Mount in recent years as, increasingly, rabbinic authorities are stating publicly that Jewish law does not prohibit this. Yet, Israeli police and security personnel, hoping to appease Muslim extremists including the Wakf authority on the Temple Mount, have been engaging in blatantly discriminatory and humiliating behavior toward Jewish visitors.” This is patently unfair – and constitutes discrimination against Jews.
The ZOA's letter was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai, Minister of Internal Security Yitzchak Aharonovitch; Minister of Justice Yaakov Ne’eman, Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Religious Affairs Yakov Margi, and Knesset Interior Affairs and Environment Committee Chair MK Amnon Cohen, along with fellow committee members. These are the officials who have the authority to allow free access to Jews to ascend the Mount for prayers, the ZOA said.
“Access to holy places is a right guaranteed by Israeli law, but the law is not being implemented,” the letter says. “When Jerusalem once again became a united city in 1967 as a result of the Six Day War, the Israeli Knesset passed an amendment to the Law and Administration Ordinance, extending Israeli sovereignty to Jerusalem's eastern sector. That includes the Old City, and the Temple Mount in its center.”
In addition, the ZOA charges, Identifiably Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount are singled out for biased treatment. “Unfortunately there is more concern for the extremist demands of the Wakf than regard for the rights of all citizens, including Jewish citizens, under Israeli law. For years, Israeli authorities have been engaging in many discriminatory practices on the Temple Mount directed against openly identifiable Jews,” the letter says. “For example, Jews wearing overt Jewish symbols or dress have to endure waiting in a special security line before entering the Temple Mount while all others pass them by,showing their IDs before entering the Mount, special “ritual item searches” before entering the Mount,” and other indignities.
The letter also cited numerous examples of discrimination – and worse. “A mother of five was arrested for quietly reciting the Hallel prayer on the fifth day of Chanuka last December. On a particularly hot day in September, a 67-year-old man was arrested after he sat down and quietly recited a blessing before taking a sip of water, as required by Jewish law. Another person found his water confiscated at the entrance to prevent the possibility a blessing might be recited.
“”There have been ten arrests in the past four months alone,” the letter continued. “Most recently, Yosef Rabin, a Temple Mount activist and Temple Renewal Institute liaison, informed ZOA's Israel Office that Yosef Idan, son of prominent Sephardic rabbi and scholar Rav Tzvi Idan, had been arrested for praying. Allegedly, Idan also was physically struck by the authorities even though, according to reports, he offered no resistance. Identified Jews are shunted to the side to wait separately in what some have come to cynically call 'the selekzia,' alluding to the Nazis' orderly process of deciding which Jews would live and which Jews would go to their demise.” Although the ZOA is reluctant to use such a “loaded” term, the letter said, “it is telling that Jews subjected to systematic abuse on the Temple Mount would even contemplate using this term.”
And it isn't only Jews who are targeted, the ZOA contends. “The same oppressive measures are extended to a non-Jew in the company of an identifiable Jew, in which case guilt is suspected by association. And a Christian visiting the Temple Mount alone, then caught reciting a prayer, also faces the consequences: Wakf representatives notify the police with their walkie talkies, who then confiscate IDs and arrest the 'perpetrator' once he/she leaves the Mount.”
And through it all, police have taken an extremely light view of Arab crimes. “The fact is, not one act of desecration or disrespect for Muslim holy places has been committed by Jews on the Temple Mount. No Jews ever have terrorized Muslims there or engaged in rioting. The worst acts of Temple Mount violence and desecrations have been perpetrated by Muslims, such as raining rocks on Jewish worshippers below at the Western Wall. And it is the Wakf that has illegally been digging up and trashing tons of earth laden with First and Second Temple artifacts, thereby devastating a priceless archeological historical record.”
The time has come to end the discrimination, the letter says. “The ZOA recognizes the need to maintain the highest level of security at a site as sensitive as the Temple Mount. Yet, it has been demonstrated that security threats to date have come from, rather than have been directed toward, the Muslims praying there. And while the ZOA feels it is proper to be attuned to the sensibilities of all religious groups, including Muslims, it objects to the unjustified and unnecessary abrogation of one group's rights, to pray non-provocatively at its holiest site, in order to accommodate another group's enmity.
“The ZOA, therefore, urges the Government of Israel to take steps to end the discriminatory policy that is applied on the Temple Mount, so that visiting Jews and other non-Muslims may be accorded all of the civil and religious rights taken for granted in the international community,” the letter adds. “Our co-religionists want to practice a simple act of faith at the ultimate Jewish holy site, they just want to pray quietly and respectfully, and we must advocate for them. For if not here, then where?”