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Biden Admin “Deeply Concerned” By Israeli Minister’s Temple Mount Visit

[additional-authors]
January 6, 2023

Members of the Biden administration have expressed concern over Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s recent visit to the Temple Mount and called for the newly formed Netanyahu government to uphold the status quo over the holy site.

Ben-Gvir visited the holy site on January 3 while wearing a bulletproof vest. He tweeted in Hebrew afterwards: “The Israeli government of which I am a member will not surrender to a vile murdering organization. The Temple Mount is open to everyone and if Hamas thinks that if it threatens me it will deter me, let them understand that times have changed. There is a government in Jerusalem!” Currently, only Muslims are allowed to worship freely at the holy site; Ben-Gvir is a longtime advocate of changing the status quo so non-Muslims can worship freely there as well.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during his January 3 press briefing that the administration is “deeply concerned” over the visit because it “has the potential of exacerbating tensions and lead to violence.” “The United States stands firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem,” he added. “We oppose any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo. They are unacceptable. The president has previously underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo.” United States Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides similarly said in a January 5 radio interview that Ben-Gvir’s actions were “obviously provocative” and reiterated the administration’s support for the status quo “full stop.”

The U.S. was not alone in its criticism of Ben-Gvir’s visit; Britain, France, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey also denounced the visit as being provocative. Jordan, which controls the Temple Mount, accused Ben-Gvir of violating the “sanctity” of the holy site. Associate Dean and Director of Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper referred to Jordan’s comments as being hypocritical, telling Fox News that when Jordan occupied Jerusalem from 1948-67 they “barred Jews for 19 years from praying at the Western Wall.” Therefore, Jordan is “the last country on Earth to lecture Israel,” Cooper said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) criticized the Biden administration’s response to the Ben-Gvir visit. “A visit by a minister from Israel’s government to a site inside Israel is not a change in any status quo arrangement, and it should not be controversial for a Jew to visit the holiest site in Judaism,” he said in a January 4 statement.The statements from the Biden White House and State Department, which suggest otherwise, will further destabilize the Middle East and risk inciting terrorism. They convince Palestinian officials that compromise is unnecessary because Democrat administrations will coerce our Israeli allies into making dangerous concessions.” Cruz went on to accuse the administration of undermining “Israel’s security and sovereignty.” “It prohibited even mentioning the ‘Abraham Accords,’ sought to open a Palestinian consulate in Israel’s capital Jerusalem, unleashed the FBI against the Israeli army, and publicly ostracized parts of Israel’s democratically-elected government,” the Texas senator said. “Meanwhile, the administration is pouring over a billion dollars into Palestinian areas and bringing officials from the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization to Washington, D.C. Now it is doubling down on these disastrous policies.”

 

 

Zionist Organization of America President Morton A. Klein similarly wrote in a Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) piece that the administration’s comments on the matter were “akin to accusing Rosa Parks of “provoking violence” by not sitting in the back of a bus.” “Price’s statement also took the same line as the terror-supporting Palestinian Authority, which falsely claimed that Ben-Gvir’s visit was a ‘provocation’ and ‘an attack on Al-Aqsa,’” Klein wrote. “To Arab terrorists, of course, the very existence of Israel is a ‘provocation.’ The U.S. State Department should not endorse this kind of hate.”

J Street, on the other hand, expressed support for the Biden administration’s remarks. “Ben-Gvir’s reckless actions indicate a destructive willingness to escalate tensions in Jerusalem and beyond, without any concern for the potential violence he could provoke,” the organization said in a January 3 statement. “They have already led to a serious diplomatic outcry from the international community, including the United States and Israel’s key Arab partners such as Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. We echo the US embassy’s statement that any actions that undermine the preservation of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif status quo are unacceptable.”

In response to criticism over the Ben-Gvir visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has maintained that the prime minister does not plan to change the status quo and is “committed” to upholding it.

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