MK Meir Porush of the hareidi-religious United Torah Judaism party infuriated nationalists when he said in a radio interview that Arabs should be responsible for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism's holiest site. The interview was broadcast on the Voice of Israel's religious station. Porush later clarified that he meant the Temple Mount should remain under Israeli control, with Arab Muslims controlling access to the area.
When asked what he thought of laws forbidding Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Porush mentioned the standard hareidi-religious view, according to which Jews should not ascend due to ritual impurity. When asked about other groups of religious Jews, whose rabbis say Jews are permitted to access the mount even today, Porush said they should not be allowed to fulfill what they see as an important pilgrimage.
“In my eyes it's very important that we adopt the position taken after the Six Day War,” he said, “that the Arabs own the Temple Mount and the Jews pray at the Kotel [Western Wall] and neither undermines the other's authority. That's what we need, in my opinion.”
Nationalist activists said the statement should make residents of Jerusalem think twice about voting for Porush, who is currently running for mayor of Jerusalem. “Can we support a Jew for mayor who is satisfied with Arab control over the Temple Mount?” asked activists in the “The Temple Will be Rebuilt [Yibaneh HaMikdash]” pamphlet. “Can we put our faith in a mayor who would rule over us according to the rulings of his rabbis, while ignoring the rights of a large and significant Jewish community that makes sacrifices for the sake of the land, the city [of Jerusalem], and the Temple...? Can we take part in electing a Jewish mayor whose goal is 'to maintain the Arab control over the Temple Mount'?”
The group Professors for a Strong Israel released a statement on Thursday expressing sorrow over Porush's remarks. “The Temple Mount belongs to the Jewish people and is our most holy site,” the statement said. “The mayor of Jerusalem must stand against an international front that is trying to forcefully wrest the Temple Mount from Israeli sovereignty.... Someone who announces before he's even been elected that the Arabs are the owners of the Temple Mount is not worthy to be mayor of Jerusalem.”
In response, Porush later said that he believed Israel should continue to maintain sovereignty over the Temple Mount. However, he explained, “There are two aspects to the Temple Mount, the religious aspect and the political aspect. There's no doubt that the sovereignty and political control over the Temple Mount must remain in our hands.” When it comes to the religious aspect, he said, “The great rabbis from every sector are divided on the topic of ascending the Temple Mount... I don't plan to get involved in that debate.”