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  • Mark Lavie

Ben-Gvir on the Temple Mount? No big deal

Here's a link to this article on The Media Line

So Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s new public security minister, visited the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Everybody panic! Thousands of terrorist rockets are about to rain down! Israel faces invasions from all sides! The US will abandon the lone Jewish state! In short—Israel’s been fun, but it’s over.

Allow me to offer advice that many men give their overwrought wives: “Calm down, honey.”

Yes, that usually makes it worse. But stick with me here.

I would be the last to excuse anything Ben-Gvir does. It is a travesty that a disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahane should step foot in the Knesset, much less the Cabinet. Ben-Gvir, as Kahane taught, believes that Arabs have no place in “Greater Israel.” Ben-Gvir’s multiple criminal convictions for anti-Arab violence and incitement prove that. These days he says he opposes his mentor’s desire to expel all Arabs, but that’s the ideological goal.

The fact that his party got so many seats in the Knesset underlines the untenable political and security situation facing half a million Israelis who live across the Green Line. Many voted for his party, because five decades after Israel took control of the territory, it still hasn’t decided whether it belongs to Israel. In the meantime, Palestinians there build practically wherever they want and attack Jews wherever they want. Small wonder that the Israelis there are impatient for a permanent legal status—annexation—and tough measures against the Palestinians.

If there had been a religious Zionist party without Ben-Gvir, chances are it would have received about the same number of votes, because of the situation above. It’s inexcusable that Benjamin Netanyahu brought Ben-Gvir into the parliament and then into the Cabinet, mainstreaming the racist views that got his mentor, Kahane, banned from the Knesset election in 1988.

What does it have to do with the consequences of Ben-Gvir’s little jaunt up to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest place, also Islam’s third-holiest site?

Nothing. Why? Because nothing happened.

There’s a Yiddish expression, “oter gezukt,” that roughly translates, “So he said it.” In other words, “So what?” The extreme reactions to Ben-Gvir’s short visit to the holy site fit that description. So does the visit.

In the Arab world, and increasingly in the rest of the world, saying something is about the same as doing something. So Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas denounced Ben-Gvir’s visit in vivid terms, like “storming Al-Aqsa,” the mosque that Ben-Gvir did not even approach.

This bust-up starts and stops with angry statements. That applies even to the US government. Its denunciation of Ben-Gvir’s visit was framed in the context of “harm to the two-state solution,” Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace. Since it’s clear that the two-state solution is not relevant now after the Palestinians turned down multiple offers of a state, the US condemnation can be seen in the Yiddish framework of “so he said it” —declarations as action.

The uninitiated would think that Jews never, ever enter the Temple Mount. Yet Ben-Gvir himself has visited the site on numerous occasions over the years. Jews tour it almost every day. The only difference is that now Ben-Gvir is a Cabinet minister in a far-right government.

Here’s how it works on the ground: During Netanyahu’s first term, in the late 1990s, the news agency where I worked was swamped with government spokespeople. They were available to comment on every insult, every slight, every statement.

Then the left-leaning Labor Party took over. Trying to cultivate some contacts for our news operation, I approached a confidant of the new prime minister and asked him if he would be willing to give us guidance, just tell us if something we heard was right or wrong. “No,” he responded quickly.

I countered that the outgoing government was always ready to cooperate with us, make declarations. “Of course,” he explained. “Right-wing governments are eager to tell you why they can’t do anything. We’re going to be doing things, and we don’t want you to get in the way.”

In line with that observation, Ben-Gvir made his point, the others made their points, and now we can all go back to our lives.

Domestic issues, like emasculating the Israeli court system or changing the Law of Return, are much more serious, but they’re local matters that Israelis need to deal with.

So after the visit, no invasion, no US abandonment, no rockets. That’s not to say that Palestinians won’t fire a rocket here and there, because that’s what they do, regardless of events.

Even if Israel annexes something like a settlement, the test must be—what does that really change on the ground? Chances are, very little.

So let’s not get dragged into apoplectic and apocalyptic condemnation every time someone in the new Israeli government opens their mouth. Let’s save that for when, if, they actually do something significant.

In other words: “Calm down, honey.”

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Correspondent MARK LAVIE has been covering the Middle East since 1972. His second book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” recaps his career and comes to a surprising conclusion.

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