How Jewish prayer represents “an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide”

UK media coverage of “tensions” at the Temple Mount at times devolves into the absurd, mostly due to the way in which ‘professional’ journalists accept and normalize the logic of Islamist intolerance towards Jews and other religious groups.  

A report by Ben Lynfield at The Independent (‘Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque – a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’, Feb. 26) represents a classic example of this strange inversion in which those advocating for freedom of worship for all groups are labeled as provocateurs, while those seeking to curtail that religious freedom are cast as victims.

Lynfield begins:

The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there.

The Indy reporter later acknowledges that the legislation has no chance of becoming law – due to opposition from, among others, Binyamin Netanyahu – but still contextualizes the debate as feeding the “perception of an Israeli threat to Al-Aqsa Mosque” which could “ratchet up tensions in the wider Arab and Muslim worlds.”

Lynfield then gives some background about the Temple Mount:

Al-Aqsa is situated in an area revered as Judaism’s holiest site for housing the temples destroyed in 586BC and AD70 and is in the locale where religious Jews pray a third temple will be built. The Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has been an exclusively Muslim prayer site for the last 1,300 years, with the exception of the crusader incursions to the Holy Land.

Indeed, this passage in indicative of the convoluted logic often at play in the debate: Because the site has been an exclusively Muslim prayer site for over a thousand years, any attempt to abrogate such an exclusionary practice is itself a dangerous provocation.

Later, Lynfield deceptively weaves the following into the story.

On Tuesday morning, violence erupted at the Mount in advance of the debate. The police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that about 100 Palestinians, most of them masked, began throwing stones and fireworks at police, lightly wounding two officers. Police then entered the mount to ”disperse the rioters“, he said.

The suggestion here is as clear as it is erroneous: that Palestinians were rioting at the site due to a debate in the Knesset over a bill which will never become law.  However, as anyone who routinely reads news stories on such violence at the Temple Mount would know, such outbreaks occur, not due to any provocations by Israel – which arduously defends the rights of all faiths in the holy city – but by Palestinian extremists intent on provoking a conflict.  

As Israeli Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld continually tells journalists genuinely interested in understanding the cause of the violence, riots are usually coordinated by elements within Fatah and Hamas – as well as by local groups, such as Israel’s Islamist Movement.  (The northern branch of the Islamist Movement is led by a radical preacher fancied by the Guardian named Raed Salah.)

While the overwhelming majority of Israeli politicians are, as the Indy article suggests, not going to take any measures which will have the effect of inflaming the political situation, the surreal manner in which the issue is framed is best illustrated by a quote in the article by Hanan Ashrawi:

Hanan Ashrawi, the PLO spokeswoman, termed the holding of the Knesset debate an “extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide. Using religion as a pretext to impose sovereignty on historical places of worship threatens to plunge the entire region into great conflict and instability. It is reminiscent of the same regressive ideology that brought the crusades to Palestine in the Middle Ages’.’ 

So, let’s get this straight:

  1. Some Jews are asking for the right to quietly pray at the site in Jerusalem holiest to their faith.
  2. Millions of Muslims worldwide will, it is alleged, be provoked at the mere possibility that a faith other their own will have that right which they want exclusively for themselves.
  3. And, yet, it’s the Jews in this scenario who are portrayed as the “regressive” political force?

‘Orwellian’ doesn’t begin to fairly characterize the mental gymnastics employed by journalists in order to accept such bizarre logic.  

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