Biden administration calls Jewish prayer at holy site in Jerusalem 'unacceptable'

"Any unilateral actions that depart from the historic status quo is unacceptable," the State Department said.

Updated: January 16, 2023 - 10:43am

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The Biden administration says an Israeli proposal to end the ban on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem would be an "unacceptable" disruption to the "historic status quo," which only allows Muslims to pray there. 

The State Department  was asked by the Washington Free Beacon last week if it would support proposals by conservative Israeli leaders to allow Jews to pray at the Temple Mount, which is a holy site for both Jews and Muslims. 

The State Department told the news outlet that it opposed Israel departing from longstanding policies regarding prayer at the holy site.

"The United States stands firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem," a State Department spokesman said. "Any unilateral actions that depart from the historic status quo is unacceptable." 

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a national security minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, suggested during his visit to the Temple Mount earlier this month that Israel change the policy to allow Jews to pray at the site. 

While both Jews and Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount, Jews aren’t allowed to pray there, according to a policy that was enacted to prevent violence from erupting at the holy site. 

When the Free Beacon asked the State Department if Jews have a right to visit and pray on the Temple Mount, the spokesman responded, "It is not up to the United States to define the historic status quo. That is a question for the parties." 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Biden administration has a "pathological obsession with undermining Israel [and] is endangering the national security of America and our allies." 

"It should not be controversial for a Jew to visit the holiest site in Judaism," Cruz said. 

Ben-Gvir told the Wall Street Journal in an interview prior to Israel’s November election, "Why are Arabs permitted to worship and Jews forbidden? I want equal rights." 

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting earlier this month following Ben-Gvir's actions, accusing Israel of breaching the policy preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. The Biden administration also said it would oppose any change to the current status quo at the holy site.  

"If a member of the U.N. Security Council requests a meeting on this issue, we will be ready to reiterate our views to our fellow Security Council members," the State Department told the Free Beacon. 

Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the U.N., said during the emergency session, "Minister Ben-Gvir’s recent visit to the Temple Mount was not an incursion into al-Aqsa or any other fabrication that the Palestinians branded his visit as. 

"Minister Ben-Gvir’s visit was in line with the status quo, and whoever claims otherwise is only inflaming the situation." 

He added, "Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount. Every Jew!" 

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