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How Likud became the Almighty's contractor at the Temple Mount

For Israel’s ruling party, Zionism was first and foremost about settlements and security rather than religious salvation. The growing interest in the Temple Mount, however, reflects a complete transformation of Israeli politics as we know it. Welcome to the end times.

By Tomer Persico

The attempted assassination of Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, to whom I wish a speedy recovery, comes at the height of a growing trend among the Israeli public. It is a trend that finds clear expression amongst the ruling Likud party, and one that Glick was a leading advocate of. In recent years the Temple Mount movements have acted intensively to increase the number of visits by Jews, while concurrently raising awareness about the situation at the Mount. This situation includes a de-facto ban on public Jewish prayer, and an increase in violence (mostly verbal) by Palestinian Muslims toward Jewish visitors. Among the most prominent achievements of the Temple Mount proponents has been obtaining the explicit support of nearly half of Likud’s Knesset members for their struggle.

Right-wing activist Yehuda Glick holding a book depicting the Jewish Temple while standing in front of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, May 21, 2009. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Right-wing activist Yehuda Glick holding a book depicting the Jewish Temple while standing in front of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, May 21, 2009. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Likud movement has always had a fondness for national myths, but even among its members, Zionism was first and foremost about settlements and security rather than religious salvation. The growing interest in the Temple Mount among Likud members embodies the change that has taken place in Israeli political discourse – one that if not properly understood, will render our view of the current tensions and violence in Jerusalem incomplete. At that very same convention where Glick (who ran for Knesset on the Likud ticket two years ago) was shot, under the title “Israel Returns to the Temple Mount,” Chair of the Interior Committee of the Knesset, MK Miri Regev, and the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin, both of Likud, called for a return of Jews en masse to the Mount. Regev tied “our right to pray on the Mount” together with “our right to the land,” demonstrating in clear fashion the mythical coating that covers the new Likudnik nationalism.

This is but the peak of a multi-year process, during which the ruling party has turned from a traditional-secular party professing a security-based rejection of territorial compromise into an ethnic-nationalist party, which places a mythological concept at the center of its agenda. This mythic narrative is based on the belief that the Temple Mount constitutes a metaphysical focal point for the People of Israel, a sort of divine power socket – the connection that charges the nation with force and vitality. Back in 2012 Yuli Edelstein, now the Speaker of the Knesset, stated that “My job is to deal with the daily process, connecting and building the People of Israel, which leads to the Temple.” Influential MK Ze’ev Elkin, meanwhile, explained that “It is important to remove it [the Temple Mount] from the purview of the wild-eyed religious. We must explain to broad swaths of the people that without this place, our national liberty is incomplete.”

Read more: The fraud that is the Temple Mount movement

Make no mistake – this is not about untrammeled longing for the ancient ritual of burning sacrifices in the temple. Nor is it about observing the biblical commandments or upholding Halakhic stricture that matter to these members of Knesset (even the religious ones among them). The Temple Mount serves Regev, Feiglin, Edelstein and Elkin as a national flag around which to rally. The location of the temple to them is nothing more than a capstone in the national struggle against the Palestinians, and sovereignty over the Mount becomes a totem embodying sovereignty over the entire country. This is why Elkin speaks of “our national liberty”; this is why Tzipi Hotovely said on another occasion that “The construction of the temple in its place on Temple Mount should symbolize the renewal of the sovereignty of the People of Israel in its Land.”

It was only this past February that chairman of the coalition Yariv Levin waxed poetic regarding the importance of the mountain at the center of Jerusalem:

No living organism can function without a heart. It seems to me that when Jews for so many years sat in exile and prayed for a return to Zion, they did not mean Tel Aviv, but Jerusalem. They did not dream of returning to the Knesset building and the Prime Minister’s office, but to someplace else – to the Temple Mount.

But when Jews sat in exile and prayed for Zion and Jerusalem, they continued to sit in exile and pray; only when they dreamed of Tel Aviv and the Knesset did they rise up and build a state. Secular Zionism invested its blood and sweat into building state infrastructure, rather than into religious rites and sacred sites. It is no coincidence that Moshe Dayan handed control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf immediately following the Six-Day War. He believed the place to be diametrically opposed to the Zionist spirit upon which he was raised and in which he believed.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city on the first day of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) marking the end of the hajj and commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God's command, on October 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city on the first day of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) marking the end of the hajj and commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God’s command, on October 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)

But what is noteworthy in Levin’s words is neither the historical inaccuracy, nor even the organic view of the nation (as though a state where one third of the children live below the poverty line needs a “heart” in the form of a temple on a mountain). What should cause unease, if not outright concern, is the mythical messianism promoted by Levin et al through political means. The Temple Mount becomes a pawn to be used in the struggle with the Palestinians, and the discussion over prayer rights for Jews, while justified in and of its own, becomes a political hatchet. Perhaps this is what Yeshayahu Leibowitz meant when he spoke out against the “prostitution of religion for national interests.”

Gershom Scholem once said that “the salvation of the People of Israel to which I aspire as a Zionist is not at all identical to the religious salvation for which I hope in the future. I am unwilling, as a Zionist, to satisfy the ‘political’ demands or yearnings which take place in an utterly religious a-political field, in the domain of the end times apocalyptic.” Shalom understood full well the danger in basing a political discourse upon a religious one. A danger to religion, as it may be prostituted into a political tool, and danger to the state, as it is very difficult to act in a judicious manner out of messianic fervor.

Religion and politics have been entwined since the dawn of time, but in the last few centuries the Western world has chosen to separate the estates in order to promote a democratic and tolerant public sphere. What we are witnessing, before our very eyes, is an attempt to re-couple the religious myth with the political-diplomatic sphere. The political discourse is undergoing a transformation: It is adopting mythological aspects, reestablishing itself not on the foundation of security but on that of salvation tales, and is coated in religious folklore and messianic shmaltz. Whether it is out of naïve faith, or precluding any possibility of political compromise, one hears talk of the Jewish prayer, diaspora, and an age-old yearning. Before you can say “a national home for the Jewish people,” the government of Israel has been turned into an agent of the messiah and a contractor of the almighty. Welcome to the end times.

Tomer Persico teaches at Tel Aviv University and the Schechter Institute, where he specializes in contemporary religious culture. This article was first published in Hebrew in Haaretz

The fraud that is the Temple Mount movement
There are no good guys in Jerusalem
Why the status quo on the Temple Mount isn’t sustainable

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    1. bar

      That’s a strange accompanying photograph. Why are the worshippers’ behinds directed at the Al Aqsa Mosque?

      Anyway, this is an interesting article and discussion of what’s going on. I do think, however, that you need to differentiate between different strands of support for Jewish access to Temple Mount.

      There are most people, who simply believe that Jews should have equal rights to this parcel of land. And whether you are secular or not, you should be seriously evaluating this proposition. After all, even secular Zionism recognized that at its core the Jewish people were returning to their home and first and foremost is Zion – Jerusalem. This is the heart of Jerusalem.

      Then there is a minority, both among the general population as well as within political parties, that actually believe in something much bigger, such as “rebuilding” the Temple. If we’re honest about this, they are not “the Likud” but a small minority. They shouldn’t be ignored, but they should also not be conflated with everyone who supports the premise that Jews should be able to come to this parcel of land unmolested.

      Reply to Comment
      • Andrew

        “Why are the worshippers’ behinds directed at the Al Aqsa Mosque?”

        They are not.

        Those praying are facing south (towards Mecca), which is the direction that Muslims in Jerusalem always face during their ritual prayers. Therefore, they are also facing the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is not pictured, but is situated at the southern end of the esplanade. The Dome of the Rock (pictured) is *not* the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          What do you expect from an ignorant Israeli?

          Reply to Comment
        • bar

          Seems to me that you’re mistaken. Scroll down for a mapped photo:


          While you’re right that the Al Aqsa Mosque is due south, it is actually due SouthWest. Mecca is due SouthEast and the praying people are pointed toward Mecca. You can identify where they are by looking at the BBC photo and comparing it to the photo above.

          Anyway, the reason appears to be that the builder did not wish to obstruct the prayers’ direction to Mecca.


          Learn something new every day.

          Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Indicative of how much the Ugly Israeli could be bothered to find out about her neighbors.

          Reply to Comment
          • bar

            Oh, and you know what else I’ve learned? Their behinds are facing the Dome of the Rock, and that’s by design as well. Make of that what you will…

            Reply to Comment
    2. Richard

      When the Ottomans were kicked out of Greece, the Greeks summarily destroyed all of the Ottoman structure on the Acropolis, including a Mosque which had stood for 400 years. Their reason for doing this was not to revive sacrifices to ancient Greek deities, but to reclaim a place of key cultural and national significance. Why the same logic couldn’t be applied to the Temple Mount eludes me. I don’t see why the argument for giving Jews the right to congregate on the Mount unmolested is inexorably intertwined with religion. Imagine if the Mosque on the Acropolis still stood and Muslims prayed there, under the supervision of a Waqf. Would Erdogan be justified in making threats on the world stage when Greeks ascended from Athens to see the place their ancestors built? That would be a pretty absurd situation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        That would be a good point to work into an honest good faith effort towards a comprehensive settlement based on the API. Instead of picking around the edges but never tackling the whole pie. You seem to want to discuss the most difficult issues for them straight away but not the most Israeli-good-faith-demonstrating issues for them: borders, for one. Until Netanyahu, today, gets as eager to draw borders as he is to draw cartoon bombs, it’s all just rhetoric.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      “in the last few centuries the Western world has chosen to separate the estates in order to promote a democratic and tolerant public sphere.”

      Denying Jews who wish to pray on the temple mount does not show tolerance and it does not represent democratic values.

      Western democracies permit freedom of religion, speech and assembly. We do not deny one group, Jews, the right to decide where to pray and privilege one group, Muslims, with exclusive use and right to worship in a placed religiously and symbolically important to three faiths.

      In a democracy we let individuals decide if they wish to exercise their human right of freedom of worship and do not deny their right because it might offend some others’ intolerant belief that they only have the right to worship.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Democracies also permit non-Jews to buy land with freedom equal to the freedom accorded Jews and do not lock up over 80% of the land as exclusively “Jewish” for all intents and purposes. You would scream to high heaven if such a practice existed in a western democracy.

        Reply to Comment
        • bar

          Israel is a western democracy.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Typical coldly inane comment. Surprised you didn’t ask me which direction my behind faces. You seem fascinated by that. Regarding the above, you would scream to high heaven if such a real estate practice, with Jews on the receiving instead of the perpetrating end, existed in a western democracy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            And no, Israel is not a western democracy . It is an ethnotheocratic semi-democracy: Democratic for Jews only partially–among Jews it discriminates blatantly in favor of the Orthodox–and plainly, Israel is Jewish for Arabs with mostly a semblance of democratic forms. Yet Israel wants all the rights and privileges that come with being a western democracy.

            Reply to Comment
    4. ***Israel is a western democracy***

      No, it is not. It has elements of it but also has exclusivist traits that in other Western Democracies (imperfect as these also are) would lead to full blown international scandal. The automatic right of return for one group and the solid no right of return for another for instance is racism that’s enshrined in Israel’s ‘democracy’.

      Zionism IS racism. And always will be.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Gideon

      Really odd to see +972 Mag promoting segregation and religious discrimination. I guess when when it comes to Israel only non-Jews deserve Human Rights?

      The Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Compound is internationally accepted to be Holy to both Jews and Muslims. As such, it should be fully open to all who wish to worship there.

      This is basic Civic and Human Rights! You’re on the wrong side of morality. We should all be fighting to protect religious freedom in Jerusalem, not whitewashing policies of religious (in this case Muslim) Superiority.

      One Mount, Two Peoples, Open For All!


      Reply to Comment
      • Josh

        Guys like you give a shit on human rights of others since decades, but when it comes to throw out Arabs from the mount, you want to make people believe that religious rightwing nuts are some jewish Rosa Parks?
        How sick and low can someone sink….

        Reply to Comment