JERUSALEM — Yehuda Glick’s flaming red hair isn’t the only thing that makes him stand out. The Brooklyn-born rabbi, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is also one of Israel’s newest members of parliament.
Muslims call the ancient site Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, the raised esplanade in Jerusalem’s Old City that harbors the opulent Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Jews call it the Temple Mount, believed to be where the first and second temples once stood. They say the place was sanctified by God. It is considered the holiest site in Judaism.
Under a status quo agreement, Jews are allowed to visit but not visibly pray there. Jews in religious garb — as opposed to tourists — are accompanied by armed Israeli troops, who are assigned to protect them but also stop them from praying.
Muslims consider the presence of Jewish worshipers a provocation.
Glick and his supporters see it as their right.
We sat down with Glick on the eve of the Jewish high holy days, a time when tensions between Jews and Muslims over the plaza often intensify.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity:
You travel with a security detail. You get death threats. You survived an assassination attempt by a member of the Islamic Jihad movement who attacked you at meeting of Temple Mount activists in 2014. How is your health? How did this change you?
Of course, I am very happy that I survived it, not just because I am still alive but because it would be very sad in a democratic country that people are shot because of their legal legitimate activities.
When you live in a democracy you need to understand that everyone can think differently and respect each other. When someone expresses his views violently then it is very scary. But here I am and I am happy that I am alive and happy that he is dead.
You are the most prominent Temple activist. Are you hoping to build a third Jewish temple? And if you are, how would that be built, without destroying what is there already, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque?
I am a Temple Mount activist, not a temple activist. I strongly believe that the Temple Mount, which was sanctified by God, is seen by billions of people around the world, Jews and non-Jews, as the holiest place, according to the bible.
A holy place is supposed to be a center for world peace, tolerance and respect for one another. It should be a world power of light for all people who believe that God is not exclusive but inclusive.
Unfortunately, today there is a strong power of exclusiveness on the Temple Mount. It is being used by people who, in the name of God, believe they have a right to kill others who they don’t agree with.
Do you think there will be a third Jewish Temple there one day?
What will be in the future I don’t know. I try to be active in the present. I think that the word of God materialized and became a reality, against all rationality, the Jewish people came back to their homeland. The same thing will happen here. God said you will have a temple on the Temple Mount and that prophecy will also be fulfilled.
The temple is not another piece of real estate. It cannot be built by a private person or organization. The temple will be built when the people of different nations and the people of Israel understand that is what has to be done. I think that it can be done peacefully when the people of the world understand that they will benefit from it.
Let’s talk about now. What do you want to change about the current status quo?
I am for giving rights to anyone who wants to worship God — Jews, Muslims, anyone.
The Temple Mount is 144,000 square meters (about 37 acres). There is enough room for millions of people. I don’t see any reason in the world why people can’t all pray there together. There is no reason why it can’t be shared. We can all pray together, I can stand there with an Evangelical pastor, a Catholic priest and a Muslim sheik. Once we can agree that it can be done, how to do it is a minor issue.
Mankind has proven that even the most opposite thing in the world — a man and a woman — can live together and build a family.
Why is it so important for you to pray on the Temp Mount? Jews have the Western Wall.
It is only because the Ottoman emperor did not allow Jews to go up to the Temple Mount that they started praying at the Western Wall. Throughout history, every Jew who came to Jerusalem went to pray on the Temple Mount. It is the only holy place in the Jewish religion.
Muslims see your campaign for prayer on the Temple Mount as provocative, as incitement. Many Israelis think so, too.
Look, first of all I don’t know in what world human rights, freedom and respect to all people is considered provocative. Secondly, I totally dismiss the claim that a woman who has been raped be blamed for being raped and I totally dismiss the claim that victims of terror be blamed for terror. If someone who is praying is a justification for terror, then I don’t want to live in such a society and I don’t think we should justify it.
I think terrorists are looking for excuses to use their violence. Terrorists want the terror and they will look for a reason to blame for it.
But your actions, going to a place that is extremely sensitive, has sparked violence. How do you justify continuing?
We are not going to give in to terror. We are going to fight terror and we are going to live here together. I pity the Muslims, they are such nice wonderful people but they see a Jew praying and they have no choice? They have to kill him? If the fact that someone saying a prayer makes you want to kill them, then it’s you that has a problem.
Muslims are fearful that allowing Jews in to pray is the first step to them taking over the holy site. They say if you continue to push, it could cause a holy war.
I feel those are all excuses. There is not going to be World War III over this. The Israeli Arab Muslim population is living under some kind of illusions that the Muslim world cares about them. I’ve got a surprise for them: They should go ask the 100,000 Syrians who are being killed every day to find about the solidarity of the Muslim world.
Over the past year, Netanyahu has banned Israeli lawmakers from going up to the area as a way to reduce tensions. Are you going to take action against this?
I will not break the ban. I am very obedient, so if that’s the rule, that’s the rule. Although, if it does not change I may take it to court and fight it publicly. Right now I am waiting until after the Jewish holidays. If we go through them quietly, where Jews can continue ascending the Temple Mount, then I will start raising the issue again.