Chairman Weiss: Religious Freedom & The Temple Mount

(originally published May 3, 2022 / 2 Iyar 5782)

The Jewish right to pray at the Western Wall was twice attacked by rocks thrown by Muslims from the Temple Mount in recent weeks. Israel acted to stop the attacks, yet even the U.S. did not lend support to the Israeli effort or condemn the attacks on Jewish worshippers. Instead, it called for an end to the “cycle of violence,” as if both parties were equally guilty.

Jordanian government officials went even farther. Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh gave his full support to the attacks on Jewish worshippers, saying at a parliamentary session: “I congratulate all Palestinians and all Jordanian Islamic Waqf workers who stand as tall as a turret, and those who throw stones at pro-Zionists who defile the Al-Aqsa mosque.” King Abdullah of Jordan then met with U.S. President Joe Biden to press his case for Jordanian control over the Temple Mount, which could very well lead to the end of Jewish worship at the Western Wall.

This isn’t the first time Jordan has attempted to dominate Jewish holy sites. Just a few years ago, it asked UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to reclassify the Western Wall as a Muslim site, and attempted to classify the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem as sites holy to Muslims alone, erasing their sanctity to Jews.

While much of the Arab world is beginning to change its attitude toward Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan has not been part of this trend. Instead, he is ignoring the precedent set by his father, King Hussein. Hussein launched an attack on Israel in 1967, but after Israel saved his regime in 1970 by stopping Syrian troops from supporting the Black September terrorist organization’s attempted coup, Hussein changed his attitude.

On March 16, 1997, Hussein paid condolence calls to seven Israeli families whose daughters were murdered by a Jordanian soldier. Instead of hailing the soldier as a hero, Hussein imprisoned him and offered financial compensation to his victims. Even though King Abdullah claimed he supported his father’s condolence visits, his actions say otherwise. On March 12, 2017, Abdullah released the Jordanian soldier, Ahmed Dagamseh, despite Dagamseh’s lack of remorse.

This was not the only time Abdullah’s regime has shown support for anti-Israel terrorists. In November 2014, the Jordanian parliament held a moment of silence for two Palestinian terrorists killed after slaughtering five people in an attack inside a Har Nof synagogue. In March 2019, Jordanian MP Khalil Atiyeh stood up during a parliamentary session and saluted the 18-year-old terrorist who fatally stabbed 19-year-old IDF Sgt. Gal Keidan and shot and killed Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, a father of 12.

Meanwhile, Jordan is still providing a safe haven for terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, who was involved in an August 2001 suicide bomb attack at a Jerusalem restaurant that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Tamimi was indicted and put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, but Jordan has repeatedly refused U.S. extradition requests. So far, Jordan has suffered no negative ramifications due to its refusal.

Actions speak louder than words. Jordan’s refusal to extradite Tamimi despite its extradition treaty with the U.S. is not the action of a U.S. ally against terrorism. After 9/11, former U.S. President George W. Bush said that the U.S. will treat terrorists and those who give safe haven to terrorists as equally morally culpable. Jordan is giving a safe haven to Tamimi.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. It was home to the two Jewish Temples. Jews face in its direction whenever they pray. If the right to freedom of worship is sacrosanct, then it is wrong for Israel to prevent Jews and Christians from worshiping on the Mount. Instead, it protects only the religious freedom of Muslims. This is blatant discrimination. Moreover, this discrimination has emboldened Muslim hatred of Jews, as we see when thousands of Muslims on the Mount call for the death of Jews and throw stones at Jewish worshipers below.

Ironically, however, Muslims themselves have admitted that their domination over the Mount is based on a lie. In 1925, the Supreme Muslim Council published a guide to the Temple Mount for tourists. It said the site’s “identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This too is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.’” In discussing Muslim rule over the Mount, which the guide says started in 637 A.D., it said, “In that year the Caliph Omar occupied Jerusalem” (emphasis added). The Supreme Muslim Council understood that Jerusalem was Jewish and the Muslims had “occupied Jerusalem,” something even the BDS-supporting Harvard Crimson appears not to understand.

Historical truths and the protection of freedom of religion go together. In 1925, the Supreme Muslim Council said it was beyond dispute that the Temple Mount is the site of Solomon’s Temple and is therefore the holiest site to Jews and Judaism. Muslims on the Temple Mount who attack the Jewish right to pray there, throw rocks at Jews who pray at the holy Western Wall below and call for the death of Jews are not part of a “cycle of violence,” just as the Russian war on Ukraine is not a cycle of violence. Instead, the attacks on Jewish worshipers are the epitome of anti-Semitism. Jordan’s support for this anti-Semitism should preclude increased Jordanian control of the Mount. Instead, it should mean that they will exercise no control over the site whatsoever.

The Biden administration’s failure to take Israel’s side on this issue is not just bad policy. It also underlines its failure to stand up against anti-Semitism at a time when anti-Semitism is exploding across the world. The White House needs to support stronger Israeli control over the Temple Mount and religious freedom at the site, and reject anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish worship at the Western Wall.

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