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Media Analyses





The Los Angeles Times and Temple Mount Provocations


The Los Angeles Times' article today about a purported increase in attempts by Jewish worshipers to pray on the Temple Mount unnecessarily exacerbates an already tense situation with a provocative, misleading headline, and by publishing false Palestinian accusations as fact. As of this writing, the story by Jerusalem bureau chief Edmund Sanders appears on the top item of the Los Angeles Times home page and is accompanied by a bombastic, misleading headline:

The headline is provocative and misleading given that the site in question, the Temple Mount, is not simply a "site sacred to Muslims," but is also Judaism's holiest site, as the article itself makes clear.

Furthermore, the front-page blurb does nothing to clarify the fact that the site where Jews are seeking to pray is Judaism's holiest site. It says: "Israeli police and Muslim officials say prayers at the Temple Mount-Al Aqsa mosque site are a provocation. One rabbi responds: 'What is provocative about a person wanting to pray?'"

Those readers who bother to click on the headline in order to read the story will come to a page with a more balanced headline. It states "More Jews praying on site also sacred to Muslims" (emphasis added). The "also" makes clear that the site is holy to Jews, an essential point that the majority of Los Angeles Times Web visitors would miss.

Israeli Arsonist?
 
Moreover, the article twice reports false Palestinian accusations as fact. First, Sanders allows a Palestinian to imply that Israelis set fire to the Al Aqsa mosque in 1969. He wrote:

"The Israeli strategy is to take over," said Mahi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, a Jerusalem think tank. "We don't want to share, not because we don't accept them, but because we don't trust them." . . .

Hadi also noted that temple-rebuilding extremists set fire to Al Aqsa mosque in 1969 and plotted to bomb the Dome of the Rock in the 1980s.

But the 1969 Temple Mount arsonist was neither an Israeli nor a Jew. The 1969 arsonist, Dennis Michael Rohan, was an Australian Protestant follower of an evangelical sect known as the Church of God. By his own admission, Rohan hoped to hasten the coming of the Messiah by burning down the al-Aqsa mosque. On Nov. 15, 2000, the Wall Street Journal published a correction regarding the same false assertion that an Israeli had set fire to the mosque in 1969. It stated:

The arsonist who attempted to burn down Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque in 1969 was an Australian who belonged to a Christian fundamentalist sect. An article in Monday’s edition on talks between U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders incorrectly stated that an Israeli had made the attempt.

The Agence-France Presse similarly corrected in 2005. Given that Sanders' article is about purported increased attempts by Jewish worshipers to pray at the Temple Mount, and about Palestinian fears of an alleged Jewish takeover, the Times invocation of the 1969 arson attempt without clarification that neither Jews nor Israelis were involved is completely spurious. Editors have an obligation to publish a correction making clear that the 1969 arson attempt did not involve an Israeli or a Jew.

Assault 'On the Mosque'?

Second, Sanders reports without challenge the false Palestinian claim that police launched an assault on the Al Aqsa mosque earlier this month. The article states:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this month accused Israel of launching a 'fierce assault' on the mosque after soldiers broke up a Muslim riot triggered by a group of Jewish worshipers." (Emphasis added.)

Jerusalem police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, who was quoted in Sanders' story, confirmed to CAMERA that the police did not enter, raid or assault the mosque earlier this month, and that it is police policy not to enter or assault the mosque (barring the extreme unprecedented circumstance in which a police officer is kidnapped and held within the mosque). After Arab worshipers attacked police at the Mugrabi Gate on Friday, Oct. 5 and threw stones at Jewish worshippers praying below at the Western Wall, the police entered the Temple Mount plaza and dispersed rioters who were in open areas outside, but in no way launched an assault on the mosque itself, according to Rosenfeld. Police did not direct any assault towards the mosque, nor did they enter it, Rosenfeld said.

In addition, the allegation that the Muslim riot "was triggered by a group of Jewish worshipers" is imprecise as it falsely implies that Jewish worshipers were at the scene when the Muslim riot began, directly provoking Muslims who spontaneously rioted. In fact, no Jewish worshipers were on the Temple Mount during the Muslim riots Friday, Oct. 5. Rosenfeld points out that Jews are not permitted to enter the Temple Mount at all on Fridays, a Muslim holy day. Earlier in the week (Tuesday, Oct. 2, and Thursday, Oct. 4), Jewish groups had entered the Temple Mount, and a couple of activists who had tried to pray were arrested.
 
Jewish Visitors Vs. Worshipers

The premise of the article, as the headline states, is "More Jews [are] praying on site also sacred to Muslims." The second paragraph states:

On most days, dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of Jewish worshipers ascend to the disputed 36-acre platform that Muslims venerate as Al Aqsa mosque and Jews revere as the Temple Mount with an Israeli police escort to protect them and a Muslim security guard to monitor their movements.

While it is true that more groups of Jewish visitors are coming to the Temple Mount, and that there is a legal and political campaign afoot to allow Jewish prayer at Judaism's holiest site, there is no evidence that "dozens -- sometimes hundreds" of Jewish worshipers are praying there daily. According to Rosenfeld, in the peak period of the week-long Sukkot holiday earlier this month, 600 Jewish visitors came to the site. Meaning, at the busiest time of the year, at most 100 Jews visited the site, and clearly not all attempted to pray. (Those who are caught attempting to pray are arrested.) Not every Jewish visitor to the site is a "worshiper" and Sanders obscures that point. Jews visiting the Temple Mount, in certain hours and on certain days, and via a certain entrance, is not a change of the status quo. Jews praying on the Temple Mount is.

Persistent readers who reach the 23rd paragraph of the article learn that "Police officials say they oppose any attempt to allow non-Muslim prayer on the plaza." Thus, the article contradicts itself. On the one hand, Sanders claims in the second paragraph that Israeli police "protect" "Jewish worshipers" on the Temple Mount; on the other hand, in the 23rd paragraph, he notes that Israeli police say they "oppose" attempts to pray. The truth is that Israeli police protect Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, and arrest Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount, meaning those caught trying to pray.
 
In a final inaccuracy in the article's second paragraph reproduced above, Sanders wrongly refers to "the disputed 36-acre platform that Muslims venerate as Al Aqsa mosque." Muslims do not refer to the entire 36-acre platform at the Al Aqsa mosque; they refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram al-Sharif in Arabic. The Al-Aqsa mosque occupies a rather small area in the southern end of the Noble Sanctuary, as pictured in the illustration taken from an online guide to the Noble Sanctuary. Perhaps Sanders does not challenge the false Palestinian claim about an "assault on the mosque" because he does not distinguish between the mosque and the much larger plaza, a serious misunderstanding about the Temple Mount.
 
 
Likewise, the blurb about the article blurs the distinction between the Al Aqsa mosque and the much larger Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount upon which it stands. The blurb states: "Israeli police and Muslim officials say the prayers at the Temple Mount-Al Aqsa mosque site are a provocation." But there are no Jewish prayers, or attempted Jewish prayers, at the Al Aqsa mosque. The illegal prayer attempts take place outside, in the open area of the Temple Mount, not in the mosque. 

UNESCO Vote

Again obscuring the fact that the Israeli government and police forbid Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Sanders reports selectively about a Jordanian campaign to condemn Israel at UNESCO. His account of the Jordanian effort is highly abbreviated:

Jordan, which has maintained day-to-day supervision of the plaza through an Islamic trust called the Waqf, is asking the U.N.'s cultural body, UNESCO, to condemn Israel for permitting an increase in Jewish prayers.

He doesn't mention the Jordanian attempt essentially failed, at least for now. As reported by Ha'aretz, Oct. 17:

Over the past 24 hours, Israel's ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, held intensive contacts with representatives of European countries in an effort to get them to apply pressure on the Jordanians. As evidence of the fact that the Jordanian arguments [about Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount] are baseless, Barkan provided them with an article that appeared Tuesday in Haaretz by right-wing activist Karni Eldad in which she attacked the government for not allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. . . .

According to the diplomat, the Russian initiative came as a complete surprise to the Jordanians, the Palestinians and other Arab nations. During a vote held on Wednesday, 28 countries supported the Russian initiative while 23 countries opposed. Among those opposed were mainly Arab and African nations, as well as France - the only EU state to oppose.

"The Russian ambassador is a very serious woman and has presented the initiative in order to save UNESCO from a dangerous politicization," he said. "Many countries understood that these anti-Israeli resolutions are exaggerated, and as evidence, even Brazil was against the suspension. This is a big achievement for Israel."

Karni Eldad's Op-Ed bemoaning restrictions on Jews entering the Temple Mount, and the prohibition against Jewish prayer there, is here (in Hebrew).
 
There is a long history of Arab incitement falsely accusing Israel of attempting to take over the Temple Mount including involving the reopening of the Hurva synagogue and the Mugrabi bridge affair. While reporting on Palestinian claims about "dangerous provocations" at the Temple Mount, reporters must take care not to contribute to the incitement and charged environment by reproducing false Palestinian claims as fact.
 
For the Hebrew version of this article, please see Presspectiva.

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