Tuesday, September 17, 2013

  • Tuesday, September 17, 2013
  • Elder of Ziyon
The Guardian last Friday had a Comment Is Free piece by one Giles Fraser, where he warned of the dire consequences of allowing Jews to visit their holiest site:

An Israeli claim to Temple Mount would trigger unimaginable violence

The settler mentality is now increasingly focusing on what is politically the most explosive site on the planet
The orthodox position has long been that the Temple can only be rebuilt and sacrifices resumed when the Jewish messiah returns. There have been a few dissenting voices to this consensus – most notably, Maimonides – but since the foundation of the state of Israel, the idea of Jews returning to Temple Mount prior to the arrival of the messiah has been the obsession of a tiny minority. And mostly, like Sharon, driven by secular political rather that theological concerns. But as Israel continues its shift to the right, these dangerous voices are now entering the political mainstream. Back in March, the housing and construction minister Uri Ariel, who advocates the rebuilding of the Temple, visited the site as a "tourist". In April, Knesset member Miri Regev emphasised: "I do not understand why a Jew is not allowed to pray in the most sacred place for him – the Temple Mount." Religious services minister, Naftali Bennett, has announced he will work for legislation guaranteeing Jewish access. And the notoriously hardline Likud politician, settler and Knesset member Moshe Feiglin – who believes Israel ought to annex all of the West Bank and Gaza – stepped up the pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu in a speech in New York last week, calling on him to restore Jewish sovereignty over the site.

It would be hard to overstate how dangerous an idea this is. The vast majority of orthodox rabbis have reiterated their opposition to it. But the settler mentality is now increasingly focusing on what is politically the most explosive site on the planet. If they succeed, a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic.
Fraser is wrong on a number of levels.

While the haredi world is generally against visiting the Temple Mount, the consensus among modern Orthodox Jews is that (with proper preparation and caveats) it is certainly permissible to visit the site, as long as one stays away from areas that the actual Temple and the Holy of Holies was. It is certain that, for example, the Herodian extensions on the southern part of the Mount - including where the Al Aqsa Mosque was built - are nowhere near the Temple site.

He also seems unaware that Jews are visiting the Temple Mount virtually every day. Usually less than a hundred a day, but still a core of people visiting and some even praying - and the Muslims know it, document it,  write lots of articles condemning it and sometimes they even start throwing stones and Molotov cocktails because of  it.

But nothing apocalyptic has happened. The Jews return, and in general outside of grumbling nothing bad happens.

Equating those who want to visit the Temple Mount with a "settler mentality" is also condescending, to say the least. My visit to the Temple Mount earlier this year was because I wanted to have a rare opportunity to see Judaism's holiest spot for myself. Certainly, those who assert their rights to live in the land of their forefathers are more likely to be the types who want to assert their rights to visit their holiest place. Why are people who strive for their own human rights be considered inherently bad?

I doubt that Fraser is Jewish, but he seems to be strangely obsessed with the halachic ban on Jews ascending to the Mount. But shouldn't that be a right that Jews have - to decide to visit or not to visit based on their own beliefs and the evolving halachic thinking on the topic?  The decision of whether Jews should be allowed access to their holiest site should not be left to Fraser or the Muslims or the EU or the UN, but based on simple fairness and freedom of religion. Isn't that what liberals believe?

Look at how Fraser describes what would happen if Jews would visit and pray at the Mount: "a billion Muslims worldwide would go ballistic." No, they won't. They will threaten to go ballistic, but the proper response to that is for Jews to assert their rights. Giving in to threats is not a strategy - it is surrender.

Fraser also seems unaware that the Muslims who threaten violence if Jews should be given more access also are against all non-Muslim visitors, of which there are thousands every month.Should those tourists also be banned because of Muslim threats?  If the Guardian wants to pay for Fraser to report from the Temple Mount, will he take the principled position that he might anger Muslims and therefore refuse?

Finally, the best argument against Fraser's thesis comes from Muslims themselves. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry Monday made yet another condemnation of Jews visiting the Temple Mount, and warned about a supposed mass rally of Jews throughout Jerusalem during the upcoming Sukkot holiday. But one statement that the Ministry made was telling.

It said that the absence of Muslim reaction to Jews visiting the Mount has emboldened the Jews to continue to do so.

In other words, Jews have been visiting the Mount for years now. Little bad has happened. Now, Muslims are upset at themselves for not reacting strongly enough! Their actions have been nowhere near their fiery and inflammatory rhetoric.

Muslims have used threats of massive violence for over a century to force Westerners to cower in fear. Sometimes, they actually kill a few people. But their actions are rarely anywhere close to their rhetoric. Not once has there been a popular Muslim war against a Western nation based on perceived insults to Islam. But such a war has been threatened countless times.

Finally, I wonder what Fraser thought when the Mohammed cartoons were published. After all, the Muslims threatened mass violence, and several people were killed. Did he demand then that the Western freedoms of expression be curtailed in the face of Muslim threats? Thousand of Muslims indeed "went ballistic."

Luckily, Denmark in general supported freedom of expression then, and the furious Muslim reaction calmed down in only a few days. This was the proper reaction.

Shouldn't Muslim threats to Jewish freedom of religion - even if it is only a minority of Jews who feel they must ascend to their holiest site -  be treated the exact same way? 

Or are Jewish religious rights somehow inferior to the rights of Danish cartoonists?

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