Jews praying on Temple Mount, July 18th 2021
Jews praying on Temple Mount, July 18th 2021צילום: אם תרצו

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to walk back support for the Jewish right to freedom of worship on the Temple Mount Monday, a day after seemingly endorsing a change to long-standing Israeli policy.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office responded to Arab stone-throwing incidents on and around the Temple Mount and protests against Jewish visits to the holy site, saying that the government would continue to enable Jews to visit the site, protecting their right to “freedom of worship” on the Mount.

In addition, Jewish groups visiting the Temple Mount were allowed pray and sing Israel’s national anthem – marking a departure from the country’s years-long discriminatory policy against non-Muslim prayer at the holy site.

But a day later, the Prime Minister’s Office clarified its comments regarding Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, telling Galei Tzahal that the status quo remains in place, and that the government would only ensure the right to Jewish visitation of the Mount – not freedom of religion at the site.

“It was only a matter of time,” said Opposition MK Orit Strook (Religious Zionist Party). “Bennett’s office walked back its announcement on freedom of religion for Jews on the Temple Mount, just like I said. When the premiership is dependent on Mansour Abbas [chairman of the United Arab List], even the slightest movement causes the [government] to quake. What a dangerous government.”

More than 1,600 Jewish visitors ascended the Temple Mount Sunday for prayers marking the Tisha B’Av fast day, drawing the ire of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and its political representatives in the Knesset.

According to the Bayadenu organization, which organized mass visits to the holy site, a total of 1,679 Jews visited the Temple Mount as of Sunday afternoon, a 42% increase over last year's Tisha B'Av fast.

The United Arab List, a coalition partner which represents the Southern Islamic Movement in Israel, condemned the Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount, warning Jewish worshippers on the holy site could cause Arab riots and ultimately spark a “religious war”.

“We warn settlers and Knesset Members against trying to break into the Al Aqsa Mosque, and warn of [possible] serious disruptions of order which could lead to a regional religious war,” UAL said in a statement Sunday.

The UAL also claimed the Temple Mount, which it referred to as a “mosque courtyard”, is under “full Islamic ownership”.

“We will not accept prayers and the singing of the Hatikva [Israeli national anthem] in the mosque courtyard, all 35.6 acres of which is under full Islamic ownership.”

Senior UAL officials condemned Yamina MKs who visited the Temple Mount Sunday, including Yomtov Kalfon and Amichai Chikli.

“Anyone in the coalition who permits Knesset Members from their party to ascend the Al Aqsa Mosque courtyard in order to score points with their base should not expect any understanding or accommodation from us.”