Minister to haredi MK: Did you justify Arafat?

Fierce debate rages in Knesset committee over ascent to Temple Mount, in which MK Gafni blames terror on Jewish presence at holiest site.

Hezki Baruch ,

Moshe Gafni
Moshe Gafni
Hadas Parush/Flash 90

A fierce verbal clash regarding the Temple Mount took place on Wednesday, pitting Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) against MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) in the Knesset's Finance Committee.

Towards the beginning of the discussion, Gafni, who serves as chairperson of the committee, spoke about former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook's opposition to ascending the Temple Mount given doubts over which areas are forbidden to entry. Many leading rabbis have argued visiting the site while avoiding these areas is fine, as illustrated in the visit of the medieval sage Rambam.

"Two intifadas were set off because of ascension to the Temple Mount," claimed Gafni, giving credence to the Arab claims that Jewish presence at the holiest site in Judaism was the key initiator of the terror wars. Most observers have rebuffed that claim, with even Arafat's wife famously claiming he had planned the violence well in advance of a visit by then-Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon.

Erdan responded sharply, saying, "are you justifying (arch-terrorist Yasser) Arafat?," and demanding that Gafni take back his comment.

At that point MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) got involved, criticizing Gafni by saying, "two intifadas were set off because we're in the land of Israel. And not only two intifadas, but a hundred years of terror." Cynically, he added, "if we won't be here there won't be terror."

Gafni answered that he took back the comment, adding, "the fact that the terrorists and the people there who deal in terror want to harm us in any way and form isn't dependent on anything. We are a stiff-necked people, but we are a smart and wise people, there are things that we must do wisely."

"The prime minister gave an order not to ascend to the Temple Mount, and I'm the last one who will justify these murderers."

"What do we need it for?"

Smotrich interrupted Gafni's words, saying, "you don't justify but you give it a prize." At that, a fierce debate broke out about ascending the Temple Mount. MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) expressed her surprise at how the Finance Committee was suddenly dealing with halakhic (Jewish legal) matters.

"'It is a known fact (halakha) that Esau hates Yaakov,'" quoted Gafni, "but hasn't the time come to forbid MKs and ministers from ascending the Temple Mount? It doesn't contribute to our sovereignty, it doesn't contribute to security, it doesn't contribute to anything."

"The opposite is true, it causes damage," claimed the haredi MK. "What do we need it for?"

Erdan responded, saying, "there's a status quo for dozens of years and it doesn't matter if I like it or not. According to the status quo, Muslims pray on the Mount and Jews, like the tourists, have the right to visit the Mount."

"I'm certain that you, MK Gafni, as a great believer in the rights of the individual - I'm not saying that cynically - aren't even considering negating the freedom of movement," said the minister. "By the way, negating the freedom of movement from elected public representatives on a fixed basis is something that I think is inconceivable, and is no less serious than negating the freedom of movement for citizens."

As noted by Erdan, the Jordanian Waqf has been allowed to maintain de facto control over the site and ban Jewish prayer. Recently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to install video cameras on the site to allow the Waqf to better monitor and forbid Jewish prayer, despite Israeli laws guaranteeing freedom of worship.