When asked his opinion of an Israeli minister’s visit to the Temple Mount last month, the American State Department spokesman Ned Price declared, “We oppose any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo.” Meir Soloveichik notes the problem with this response:
Strolling on the Temple Mount in no way violates the so-called status quo, dating back to the policies adopted by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan after the Six-Day War—according to which, Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not openly to pray there. That is exactly what the Israeli public-security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir did.
One reporter seems to have followed up, asking Price whether he knew what the terms of the “status quo” actually were. Price’s answer was a master class in doublespeak: “It’s a question for the parties themselves, including the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, whose role as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites, again, we deeply appreciate.” We are thus in an Orwellian moment in which the “status quo” is whatever Jordan might consider it to be and in which the history of the Temple Mount can be redefined in the moment in order to disregard the rights of a Jewish state to the most important site in Jewish history. Following the visit to the site, Hamas immediately threatened repercussions, and the UN Security Council hurried to meet about the non-violation of a sacred status quo.
All this points to a profound irony. The return of Benjamin Netanyahu has been met with the journalistic gnashing of teeth and the rhetorical rending of garments by writers and public figures about the danger that the (democratically elected) government of Israel poses to democracy. And yet it is these very critics who are often so dismissive of the most elemental of democratic injustices: denying Jews in Israel the right to visit, and to pray at, Judaism’s holiest place. Perhaps, when it comes to the history of the democratic liberties of mankind in the eyes of those who piously intone on the subject, it is only the rights of religious Jews that do not matter.