Will the Temple Mount Break Israel’s Unity Government?

Government coalition’s Islamist faction furious after Jews ascend Temple Mount and sing Israeli anthem

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Temple Mount
Religious Israeli Jews flock to the Temple Mount, putting the new "government of change" in a bind. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The Bible says that Jerusalem is a burdensome stone and a stumbling block, and that’s true not only for the nations of the world, but for Israel’s own government, too.

The Temple Mount on Sunday was at the heart of a fresh dispute within Israel’s nascent unity government, the so-called “government of change.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his party are largely religious nationalists who view a return of Jewish worship to the Temple Mount as central to the full restoration of Israel, and the eventual redemption of the world.

“I want to thank the public security minister and the Israel Police for managing the events on the Temple Mount with responsibility and consideration, while maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount,” read a statement issued by Bennett to mark Tisha B’Av, the traditional day of mourning over the destruction of the first two Jewish temples.

While Israeli law officially protects freedom of religion and religious expression for all citizens in all places, in practice Jews and Christians are forbidden to pray or conduct other religious rituals atop the Muslim-dominated Temple Mount for fear of an outbreak of Islamic violence.

Bennett’s statement comes just days after a Channel 12 report showed police turning a blind eye to a regular morning prayer gathering by a small group of religious Jews at the Temple Mount, a major departure from the status quo. Some 1,600 religious Jews also ascended the Temple Mount on Sunday to publicly commemorate Tisha B’Av by singing the Israeli national anthem, HaTikvah.

A spokesman for Public Security Minister Omer Barlev told The Times of Israel that there had been “no change in policy” in regards to barring Jewish prayer at Judaism’s holiest site.

But that wasn’t enough to appease some of Bennett’s coalition partners.

Mansour Abbas, head of the government’s Islamist faction Ra’am, was furious, both with the reports of Jewish prayers and the ascension of hundreds of Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount on Sunday.

“The Al-Aqsa Mosque (which occupies the southern end of the Temple Mount, but is synonymous with the entire compound) is solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it,” read a statement issued by Ra’am, together with its parent organization, the Islamic Movement.

Ra’am went on to warn that Sunday’s actions could “inflame the situation in Jerusalem and the entire region, leading to a catastrophic religious war.”

There were minor clashes between Muslim rioters and Israeli police at the Temple Mount both before and during the visit by Jewish worshippers.

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