“Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement,” Moshe Ya’alon remarked at a press conference following his ouster as defense minister.
The focus of attention was on Netanyahu’s imminent appointment of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party leader Avigdor Lieberman to the defense ministry, overlooking Ya’alon’s replacement in Likud: US-born settler and face of the Temple Movement Yehuda Glick.
The Temple Movement aims to build a third Jewish temple on Haram al-Sharif as part of a vision to replace Israel’s ethnocratic parliamentary system with a monarchy based on halacha (Jewish law) throughout Eretz Yisrael (the biblical Land of Israel including Palestine and beyond). While Lieberman’s appointment signifies a success for Israel’s secular right wing, Glick’s entrance to the parliament is a major step forward in the Religious Zionist takeover of Israel.
More than two decades of the peace process have empowered Israel’s hardline elements, rendering the Labor Zionist camp irrelevant and struggling to maintain any appeal to the Israeli mainstream. As Israel’s old guard has become mostly obsolete, the settler movement has positioned itself as the future, taking over key positions in the government, the military, police and Shin Bet, and winning public support through the Temple Movement. “Religious Zionism is on its way to taking control of the State of Israel,” former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin warned in 2015.
Peace Process radicalizes Religious Zionism
The formula of “land for peace” at the center of the Oslo Accords was always considered antithetical to Religious Zionist doctrine which holds that Jewish redemption – the arrival of the king messiah – will be achieved through conquering and settling Eretz Yisrael. Territorial withdrawal is perceived by Religious Zionists to be a reversal of the unfolding of messianic events they believe to be happening before their eyes.
Thus the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority, was perceived by Religious Zionists as a rollback in Jewish sovereignty, raising doubts about the sanctity of the State of Israel and its willingness to carry out the messianic plan.
Religious Zionism’s crisis of faith in the state originated with Israel’s withdrawal from the Egyptian Sinai and the evacuation of the settlement of Yamit in 1982. Yisrael Ariel, then Chief Rabbi of Yamit and follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, went on to become a leading figure in the Temple Movement. Yehuda Etzion, a member of the militant Jewish Underground in the 1980s and prominent figure in today’s Temple Movement, attempted to blow up Dome of the Rock in order to halt the evacuation of Sinai.
Another major theological shockwave struck the settler camp in 2005 when Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel from the Gaza Strip. While the dramatic episode that resulted in the removal of 7,500 settlers went off with those refusing to leave only employing passive resistance methods, the event further radicalized the settler camp and empowered the most extreme among them.
Yehuda Glick, then working as a spokesman in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, quit in protest of the withdrawal and began his rise from settler activist to member of parliament and face of the Temple Movement.
Now fifty years old, the US-born Glick lives in the occupied West Bank settlement of Otniel.
After leaving his position in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, Glick took a greater leading role in the Temple Movement, becoming the executive director of the Temple Institute. Founded in 1984 by Yisrael Ariel, the Temple Institute is a state-funded organization that takes a multi-faceted approach to achieve its goal of building a third Jewish temple on what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Jews called Har Habayit (Temple Mount). Ariel is a senior figure in the Temple Movement and is a head of the “Nascent Sanhedrin”, a halachic (Jewish law) court council established by messianic settlers who seek to reinstate the biblical legal system in the prospective kingdom of god.
After leaving the Temple Institute, Glick founded a series of organizations that promote and popularize the Temple Movement through liberal discourse, including the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation in 2009, and The Liba Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount, and Human Rights on Temple Mount.
Glick’s ascendance illustrates how some of the most esoteric and extreme elements of the Religious Zionist movement achieved political prominence as that movement displaced the Revisionist Zionists from power in much the same way the revisionists took control from the founding Labor Zionists in the 1970s.
Jewish Leadership Faction
As part of a greater strategy to consolidate political power, the Religious Zionist movement aimed to take over the political structure, beginning with the ruling Likud party.
Abandoned by Benjamin Netanyahu, who as a member of the opposition rode a wave of anti-Oslo sentiment to become prime minister for the first time in 1996, Moshe Feiglin, a Glick ally, led an anti-Oslo civil disobedience campaign of the Zo Artzeinu (This is Our Land) in the 1990s. 100,000 Israelis staged sit-ins at highways and intersections, but failed to derail the Oslo Accords.
In response, Feiglin, along with Motti Karpel and Shmuel Sackett, devised a new strategy to co-opt the Israeli political system.
With Feiglin as its face, the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) movement was established in 1995, coincidentally the same evening that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Manhigut Yehudit’s lists its political goals on its website and its platform calls to “Nullify the Oslo Accords”, “Annex Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank]”, and “Restore Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.” The section on the Temple Mount details the effects Manhigut Yehudit anticipates, including guaranteeing the Jewish right to pray the Temple Mount, “strengthening Israel’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world”, and implementing god’s peace plan. “The Temple Mount is the headquarters for the Jewish mission of Tikun Olam [repairing the world], to bring peace and harmony to the world.”
In 2000, Manhigut Yehudit joined the Likud party and over the years, focused on recruitment of settlers to register as Likud members in order to promote their representatives within the Likud primaries and influence the Likud Central Committee, which decides Likud party policy. Less than a decade after its inception, Manhigut Yehudit has achieved this goal, establishing itself as the largest faction in the Likud Central Committee.
In the past election cycle in 2015, Moshe Feiglin performed poorly and subsequently left the Likud party to found the Zehut (Identity) party. Manhigut Yehudit’s leaders did not take top political positions within the party, but the new generation of the Likud members in parliament echo the political platform that Feiglin advocated for, with Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount becoming a key issue. Figures who advocate for this include Culture Minister Miri Regev, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, among others.
Glick has spearheaded a campaign to gain public support for the Temple Movement’s apocalyptic goals by using the language of liberalism – what he calls “prayer rights.”
After all, what kind of bigot would deny one’s right to something as inoffensive and holy as prayer? But to informed observers, “prayer rights” is a red herring.
In fact, if the Temple Movement accomplishes its goal of building a temple, prayer would be abolished, as it was created as a substitute for ritual sacrifice that can only take place in a temple. As Israeli political blogger Yossi Gurvitz explains, “Prayer is a pale imitation of the spiritual experience you will feel once we again slaughter sheep and spread their blood and guts on the floor, for the glory of God. Originally – and by originally I mean before the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD – the main form of Jewish observance was sacrifice.”
Moreover, Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount has been forbidden by halacha and major rabbinical authorities since the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD, and is punishable by a divinely-imposed death penalty. But the Temple Movement’s active approach theologically diverges from Orthodox Judaism which says that humans have no agency in the matter.
While Orthodox Jews vehemently object to Glick’s prayer rights campaign, most secular Zionists are unfamiliar with Jewish theology, leaving them incapable of rebutting the liberal rhetoric claiming equal worship rights for Jews on the Temple Mount. In fact, the campaign, understood as an issue of Jewish democracy – a euphemism for Jewish sovereignty – has made the Temple Movement increasingly popular among secular Israelis.
Glick regularly leads tour groups on the Haram al-Sharif, instructing them to pray in defiance of the status quo. He was banned from visiting the site from 2011 until 2013 after he was shown in a Channel 10 report praying. In April, 2013 Glick started a hunger strike in protest. Glick sued the state, and in March, 2015, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court sharply criticized the police and ordered the state to compensate Glick with 500,00 NIS ($130,000), though the compensation order was later overturned.
“Instead of protecting us from violent Islamic elements,” Glick said, “the police consciously added insult to injury by treating Jews who are law-abiding victims of violence as if they were criminals. I am hopeful that this ruling will be a warning sign to the legal authorities to ensure justice and not make corrupt use of their power.”
One of Glick’s slogans is “Stop apartheid against Jews on the Temple Mount”. But this flips reality on its head – Israel has long infringed upon freedom of worship to Muslims by denying and restricting access. Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are rarely, if ever, permitted to visit the Haram al-Sharif, while Muslims from around the world are discriminated against and often denied from entering Israeli-controlled borders. Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jerusalemite Palestinians are subject to access restrictions based on age and gender, and activists who aim to defend the Haram al-Sharif in the face of the Israeli de-facto change of status quo face political persecution and criminalization.
Thus placing the Temple Movement into a rights-based discourse allowed Israeli politicians to further the agenda by presenting it as an issue of national sovereignty and equal rights. “This is turning from a religious issue to a national issue of prime importance,” then Religious Services Minister and current Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio in June 2014. “The goals are increased Israeli activity and presence at Temple Mount, in a gradual manner.”
Likud member of parliament, now Culture Minister Miri Regev and Labor Party’s member of parliament Hilik Bar tabled a bill calling for a change in the status quo, allowing Jewish prayer rights at Haram al-Sharif. Bar said that he and the Labor party “are part of the Zionist Center-Left that sees our holy sites as the basis of our existence and the essence of our history.”
Glick the “Peace Activist”
While Glick is a self-described “peace activist” – no small irony given that he quit his position in protest of the “peace process” – his actions and rhetoric demonstrate a clear desire to spark violence, something Israeli authorities are very aware of. In 2008, then Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said “…this [Jewish prayer] will serve as a provocation, resulting in disorder, with a near certain likelihood of subsequent bloodshed.”
According to Israeli police, Glick incited violence in 2012. Then Jerusalem police commander Nissan Shaham said riots were triggered by incitement published on a website called “Temple Mount is Ours,” which police say Glick and fellow Temple Movement member Nehemia Elboim operate, though Glick denied. On February 14, 2012, the website published a poster with the official Likud party logo that read:
Members of the central committee and thousands of members, led by Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, chairman of the Likud Leadership, are invited to ascend Temple Mount, to thank and praise god, and to declare that healthy leadership begins with full control of Temple Mount, purifying the place from the enemies of Israel, stealers of land, and building the temple on the ruins of the mosques, with no fear
After Palestinian media highlighted the incitement posted, riots were sparked at al-Aqsa on the same day. This incident led to police describing Glick as, “The most dangerous man in the Middle East.”
Further undermining his credentials as a “peace activist”, Glick also collaborates with more outspoken members of the Temple Movement who openly incite to destroy al-Aqsa mosque and ethnically cleanse Eretz Yisrael of Palestinians and other non-Jews, and establish the Jewish kingdom of god.
In October 2014, an assassination attempt on Glick was carried out following a Temple Movement conference called “Israel Returns to the Mount”. Israeli forces killed suspected shooter Mutaz Hijazi in an apparent extrajudicial execution at his home the following morning. Glick was severely wounded and hospitalized but survived and has made a full recovery, only fueling his messianic fervor.
In an interview published today in Haaretz, Glick accused the police of slandering his character, calling it a “second assassination.”
The escalation of violence during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in September, 2014 was preceded by Glick lobbying new Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a Glick ally and Likud member of parliament who was promoted by Manhigut Yehudit, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to outlaw the Murabitat and Murabitin, groups of Palestinian worshippers who heckle settlers touring Haram al-Sharif with calls of “Allahu Akbar” (god is great). Two weeks after Defense Minister Ya’alon outlawed the Muslim groups at the request of Erdan, Israeli forces, in an unprecedented attack, raided the al-Qibli mosque at the Haram al-Sharif for three consecutive days.
As violence continued to escalate in October, 2014 then Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon acknowledged that the Temple Movement had incited it, while defending their “right” to do so. “We can’t ignore the fact that some of the events [in Jerusalem] are being exploited for what ministers and members of parliament did when they went up to Temple Mount,” he told Israel’s Channel 10. “It is certainly within our right to go up to Temple Mount, but there is a very sensitive status quo in play here that has been agreed upon with Jordan, and we need to preserve it. The fact that the Palestinians exploit this and turn it into a provocation and incitement is true, but we don’t need to ignite this.”
With Glick in the parliament, Lieberman running the defense ministry and Netanyahu at the helm, Israel has the recipe to escalate violence to unprecedented levels and exacerbate its religious component.