No Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Lapid promises Arab voters

Ahead of elections, Lapid tells Arabic-language news channels that Jews won’t have freedom to worship on the Temple Mount.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

In a last-minute push to appeal to Arab voters ahead of Israel’s national election, Prime Minister Yair Lapid pledged that he would not permit Jewish freedom of worship on the Temple Mount. He also said he would push to amend the Nation-State Law.

The caretaker Prime Minister, whose center-left Yesh Atid party will likely be the second largest political movement in the next Knesset, granted two interviews with Arabic-language outlets and made a number of promises to the community.

“Regarding Al-Aqsa [Mosque], I have made it [clear] in every possible way. We are not changing the status quo at Al-Aqsa, and we will [ensure] the freedom of worship of Muslims at Al-Aqsa,” Lapid told the two Arabic language news channels.

“During Ramadan, I don’t know, a million people came to pray at Al-Aqsa, and we made sure that they were able to go up and pray, because it is our duty as a government to allow freedom of worship for any Muslim who wants to come and pray at Al-Aqsa and we will protect it.”

But Lapid made it clear that despite the Temple Mount being the holiest site in Judaism, Jews do not have the same rights that Muslims do to pray at the compound.

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“We allow Jewish visits. But we do not allow Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount,” he said.

“It is under supervision, so that the status quo is not violated. The status quo is not violated,” he stressed.

The Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples were built, is the holiest site in Judaism. The delicate status quo governing the Temple Mount goes back to 1967, when Israel liberated the the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War.

Under the terms of a status quo reached between Israel and the Islamic Waqf, while Jews and Christians are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, only Muslims are allowed to pray there. The status quo also allows the Waqf to administer the Temple Mount while Israel is responsible for security.

Jordan’s special relationship with the Temple Mount and the Waqf was further enshrined in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994.

Jews who pray, chant, or sing on the Temple Mount are arrested by Israeli police. But in recent years, advocates have questioned this policy and pushed for Jewish prayer rights at the compound.

The idea has also grown among the Israeli public, with a May 2022 poll finding that slightly more than half of Israelis support Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount. Notably, ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Israelis were the only population group in Israel opposed to prayer at the site due to religious constraints regarding laws of ritual purity, with 86.5% against the practice.

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A record number of Jews visited the Temple Mount in 2022. While Jewish prayer is still officially banned at the site, there has been less enforcement from police.

Israeli government officials have also publicly questioned the status quo, with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton pushing for Jewish students to participate in field trips to the site, and former Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon questioning the restrictions on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount.

In additional comments to the Arabic language outlet, Lapid added that he opposes the Nation-State Law, a 2018 measure which officially declared Israel to be the state of the Jewish people.

“I think it should be changed and a section of civil equality added to it. There were talks about this, that a section be added to the basic law: human dignity and freedom,” Lapid said.

“At the time I was strongly opposed to the Nation-State Law and in the Knesset plenum I said ‘the State will not humiliate its citizens.’ The Nation-State Law as it is written today is an insult to non-Jewish Israeli citizens and must be amended.”