The term “status quo” simply refers to the current state of affairs, in any situation. It’s not automatically right or wrong, good or bad. But in recent weeks, the term has been weaponized as the primary argument against Jews having access to their holiest site, the Temple Mount.
It was not so long ago that a widely admired, twice-elected American president was denouncing various forms of the status quo every chance he got.
“The status quo [in health care] is unsustainable for families, businesses and government,” President Barack Obama declared in 2009. “I will not accept the status quo. Not this time. Not now.”
“The status quo [in education] is morally inexcusable, it’s economically indefensible, and all of us are going to have to roll up our sleeves to change it,” he asserted in 2010.
“The status quo [in international trade] is not working for our workers,” Obama tweeted in 2015.
In South Africa, apartheid was the status quo for more than forty years. Here in the United States, racial segregation was the status quo for a lot longer than that.
Those two examples are particularly relevant because the status quo on the Temple Mount likewise is a form of bigotry. When the Jordanians illegally occupied the Old City section of Jerusalem in 1948, they destroyed the neighborhood’s fifty-nine synagogues, and banned Jews from visiting the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. That status quo prevailed for the next nineteen years.
The fact that it was the status quo did not give Jordan’s Jerusalem policy any greater moral or legal justification than the policies enacted by white racists in South Africa or white racists in the American South. In Jerusalem, in Pretoria, and in Birmingham, the bigoted status quo was maintained through the right of might, not the might of right.
The Biden administration’s support for the status quo on the Temple Mount contrasts sharply with its position—and the position of the Obama-Biden administration—regarding the status quo in Judea-Samaria.
In his final press conference as president on January 18, 2017, Obama said he was “worried about the Israeli-Palestinian issue…because I think the status quo [in the territories] is unsustainable.” He made similar remarks on other occasions. His secretary of state, John Kerry, likewise said at a press conference in Berlin on October 22, 2014, that with regard to Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, “the current situation, the status quo, is unsustainable.” And the Biden administration has taken the same position.
Think about that. When the status quo favors the Palestinian Arabs—on the Temple Mount—it’s great. But when the status quo favors the Israelis—in Judea-Samaria—it’s awful. Quite a contrast!
It’s interesting that with regard to the Temple Mount and Judea-Samaria, the main argument for the status quo is that many Arabs will get mad, and even violent, if the racist status quo is abolished. The same argument was used in the old American South by defenders of segregation. They said that if segregation was eliminated, whites would respond violently. So, in the name of “peace,” they urged keeping the racist status quo.
The exact same argument is heard from those who support the Temple Mount status quo and oppose the Judea-Samaria status quo. “If Jews are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, the Arabs will riot,” they say. And: “If a Palestinian state is not established in the territories, the Arabs will riot.”
Violent racists should not be allowed to hold the rest of society hostage. It was wrong to impose segregation in America out of fear of white racist violence, it’s wrong to impose segregation on the Temple Mount out of fear of racist Arab violence, and it would be equally wrong to establish a Palestinian state in Judea-Samaria out of fear of racist Arab violence.
In modern democratic societies, policies should be decided on the basis of law, morality, and justice—not racism or fear of rioting mobs. If a particular status quo is moral and just, then by all means, keep it in place. But when the status quo perpetuates injustice, it should be abolished.
Stephen M. Flatow is the incoming president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”