Religious fervor always picks up before the Jewish holidays. Not surprisingly, Israeli undercover police arrested Jewish activists from the Hozrim L’Har (Returning to the Mount) organization early Friday afternoon, just before the onset of the Passover holiday, after an apparent attempt to bring a young goat on to the Temple Mount for a self-proclaimed sacrificial rite. Indeed, this drama plays itself out every year, but according to Jerusalem police, this year a record of at least twelve members of the organization were arrested throughout the course of the day on counts of disturbing the peace.
Disturbing the peace? It appears that the police have been instructed to be even more vigilant than usual, presumably not to upset the almighty ‘status quo’ on the Temple Mount, especially before the roll-out of the US brokered peace plan this June. The problem in this situation is that the status quo must be preserved on both sides, i.e., the Palestinian side as well and not just for the Israelis.
Needless to say, the suspects’ car was stopped on the way to the Old City, police finding two live goats in the trunk. Officers went on to arrest the four occupants, including journalists Hagar Shezaf of Ha’aretz and Yotam Ronen of Walla News, seizing their equipment. Israel in the meantime held on to their video gear as evidence in the investigation, which now also includes charges for animal cruelty.
But wait a minute. Is it really a criminal offense in this country to transport animals in the trunk of a car? According to IDF checkpoints around the Judea/Samaria area, quite a few Arabs do that on a daily basis on the way to and from their villages as a matter of course. So why the double standard here? Granted, it’s one thing to take animals for sale around northern Israel, and quite another to take one up to the Temple Mount, the most explosive religious compound in the world. However, there is a type of paranoia that we have been witnessing over the years, whereby the government obsesses itself with the possibility of offending the sensitivities of a Muslim world that refuses to even admit that a Jewish presence ever existed on the Temple Mount, not to mention the existence of a Temple itself! It’s what I’ve termed “Temple Denial Syndrome” (TDS) and is very much a part of the political propaganda that surrounds the Temple Mount today. That being said, what is meant in this case by ‘disturbing the peace?’ Any (perceived) religious act from a Jew that may arouse ire from the PA and/or Jordanian WAQF that controls the daily maintenance of the Temple Mount?
It’s important to note that it’s not just religious fervor that tends to inspire members of these fringe organizations to do what they do. Very possibly it’s their way of lashing out against these double standards, against the one-sided enforcement of the status quo on the Temple Mount, and against the powerful Arab propaganda machine that seeks to rewrite history itself, influencing the press in many ways, both here and abroad.
What are the chances of these same circumstances continuing again into the next year?
Actually (and believe it or not), it’s not so likely to play out in the same way. The winds of change are in the air. After the Israeli elections, the cabinet slots in the Knesset have changed and it just might give organizations like Return to the Mount a fair chance to play their game. Let’s look at a likely political scenario. The current candidates for the justice post for instance, are Bezalel Smotrich from the Union of Right Wing Parties and Yariv Levin from Likud. MK Miri Regev, the current Culture Minister may also turn out to be an outside possibility. All of whom have a healthy dose of Jewish pride.
Smotrich is definitely ahead in the running for the position and has already moved in the Knesset to try to create a new dynamic of oversight for the judiciary, effectively continuing the job that former MK Ayelet Shaked had started during her outstanding stint as Justice Minister. In fact, earlier last week Smotritch referred to the coalition negotiations and expressed his hope that he would be appointed to the post of Justice Minister: “This is our demand, and I hope that this is how I am going to be a justice minister, who will strengthen the court and public trust in it. The main tool is to restore the judicial system to its original role.” And apparently he’s quite serious. A bill he tabled earlier in the year would see Supreme Court decisions requiring parliamentary oversight, effectively breaking down the separation of power between the legislative and judicial arms of government. “The government will rule, the Knesset will legislate, the courts hold trials, but they will not replace the elected officials and will not enter into political questions. Everyone will do his job and be very trustworthy,” Smotrich told Radio 103FM.
The implication is that as a result of the new coalition, controversial laws might well be introduced that provide some leeway for these zealots to express their religious beliefs in a practical way , even right on the Temple Mount. Like it or not, the State of Israel is moving more and more to the Right. Most likely though, Likud will do all they can to obstruct people like Smotrich from gaining a foothold on the Justice portfolio for fears that he means what he says.
I dare say however, that at this point in time Smotrich is right on the money. As a nation, this is what we need moving forward, i.e., a strong national identity. A Jewish identity with Jewish values. At the end of the day, whether for or against these messianic organizations, a new method must be developed to deal with these incidents instead of simply arresting people. Indeed, we must pray for a government that upholds our sovereign rights over the Temple Mount, that applies the same standard to all its citizens, and enables all Israelis, both secular and religious, to express their unique rights.