Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday warned against a trip by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after far-right lawmakers announced plans to visit the flashpoint’s holy site.
“Itamar Ben Gvir must not go to the Temple Mount,” Lapid said at the start of his Yesh Atid party’s weekly Knesset faction meeting. “It is a deliberate provocation that puts lives at risk and costs lives.”
Ben Gvir confirmed Sunday that he plans to visit the Temple Mount, with Hebrew media reporting he could do so as early as this Tuesday or Wednesday.
Lapid urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restrain Ben Gvir, predicting the visit could spark violence. The Temple Mount has been a constant scene of conflict between Jews and Palestinians, both of whom worship the site on the hill.
“As weak as Netanyahu is, this time he has to stand up and tell him, ‘You’re not going to the Temple Mount. People will die,’” said the Yesh Atid chief.
Get the daily Times of Israel by email and never miss our headlines again
By registering you agree to the terms
Ben Gvir is one of the three far-right party leaders in Netanyahu’s emerging coalition. Long accused of being a provocateur, the new national security minister made several trips to the Temple Mount as a member of the Knesset and also led a controversial nationalist march through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. On several occasions he has set up an ad hoc office in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which has also been at the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in the Knesset on January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
“MK’s are going up [to the Temple Mount], ministers don’t — especially not the minister in charge of the National Security Department,” Lapid added in response to a reporter’s questions. “It’s seen by the whole world as a break with the status quo, even if it’s not.”
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, while others are allowed to visit at set times and under strict conditions as part of a sensitive status quo.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party and ran in the Nov. 1 elections on a joint list with Ben Gvir, stressed Monday that visiting the Temple Mount is permitted.
“Climbing the Temple Mount is part of the status quo,” he said at the start of the Religious Zionism faction meeting.
Netanyahu made no mention of the Temple Mount at a faction meeting of his Likud party, which was closed to the press.
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks during his party’s Knesset parliamentary group, holding a copy of the recently signed coalition agreements in his right hand and a copy of Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State in his left, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90 )
Alongside concerns about escalating tensions in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners have drawn criticism for their plans to roll back anti-discrimination protections, tighten the Orthodox grip on state institutions and curb non-Jewish immigration to Israel caused by Jewish law. Netanyahu’s Likud and his allies are also spearheading a judicial reform that would severely limit judicial oversight of politicians, which critics have accused of undermining Israel’s democracy.
Angered by increasing Orthodox control over state organs and calls to limit immigration, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman claimed on Monday that the new government had marked “the end of Zionism”.
“It’s not the end of Israel, at least in the meantime. But surely it is the end of Zionism,” Liberman said at the faction meeting of his right-wing secularist party.
Holding up a copy of Theodor Herzl’s seminal work, The Jewish State, Liberman argued that there was “a complete contradiction” between the founding work of the Zionist movement and the new government’s coalition arrangements.
Liberman also criticized the new coalition for intending to reshuffle various parts of government offices and transfer some areas of authority to other ministries. The Ministry of Education is particularly affected, with several parts set to be split off in promises to Netanyahu’s various coalition partners.
“Ignorance managed to stifle enlightenment,” Liberman continued.
“It may have taken more than 140 years, but if you remember the refreshing, renewed spirit of the Enlightenment movement, I’m sure it did [Enlightenment-era Jewish luminaries] Moses Mendelssohn and Naftali Hertz Wiesel turn in their graves as they look at the composition of the Netanyahu government,” he said.
You are an engaged reader
That’s why we launched the Times of Israel ten years ago, to provide discerning readers like you with essential coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news agencies, we have not set up a paywall. However, as the journalism we do is expensive, we invite readers who have found The Times of Israel important to support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For just $6 a month, you can support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREEas well as access exclusive content only available to members of the Times of Israel Community.
Thank you very much,
David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel
Join our community Join our community Already a member? Sign in to stop seeing this