UPDATED: The Media Erodes the Jewish Claim to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount

Aug, 17, 2022 UPDATE:  New York Times Clarifies

After communication with CAMERA , the New York Times clarified its piece, "Eight Injured in Shooting in Jerusalem" to note that the Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site. The passage now reads:

"Sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the nearby Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and houses the third-holiest mosque in Islam."

A recent New York Times article became a platform from which to diminish the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount.  It is the continuation of an ongoing campaign of advocacy journalism to prioritize the Muslim claim to Judaism’s holiest site.

Eight Injured in Shooting in Jerusalem,” by Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley was ostensibly a news report about a Palestinian-perpetrated terror attack on Jewish worshippers leaving Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Aside from the NYT casting the terrorist nature of the shooting attack (that injured eight people, including the critical wounding of a pregnant woman, her baby and an American tourist) as a one-sided Israeli claim, the news story was used as an opportunity to minimize the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and elevate the Muslim one. Kingsley wrote:

“Sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the nearby Temple Mount houses the third-holiest mosque in Islam and was the location in antiquity of two ancient Jewish temples that remain important to Jewish identity.”

The Jerusalem bureau chief not only avoided mentioning that the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site but he demonstrated a profound, overall ignorance of the centrality of the Temple Mount to Judaism, simplistically relegating its importance to having been the site, once upon a time, of two temples.   

In fact, the Jewish temples were built on what was the epicenter of Judaism, the foundation stone (Even Hashtiya) upon which the world was created. The Divine Presence (Shechina) is believed to rest here and it is therefore the site where the biblical Isaac was brought for sacrifice, where the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant housing the Ten Commandments once stood, and subsequently where the Jewish Temple was built and then rebuilt.  The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews for millennia.  It is the focus of their prays and the site of Jewish pilgrimage, just as Mecca is Islam’s holiest site and the site of Muslim pilgrimage.

The derogation of the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount as simply “important” in contrast to the portrayal of the Muslim claim as “third holiest” cannot be explained entirely by Kingsley’s ignorance of Judaism and history. Nor is it the first time he and other New York Times staff have diminished Judaism’s claim to its holiest site.  It is part of a political advocacy campaign that diminishes Judaism’s claim to its holiest site while elevating the Muslim one (as explained further below).

When Did the Depreciation of Judaism’s Holiest Site Begin?

The centrality of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to the Jewish nation is well documented and has been historically and globally recognized for millennia by people of all faiths.   

For example, a 1924 English-language tourist guide to the Temple Mount put out by the Supreme Moslem Council, entitled “A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif” stated:

"The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple [built by the Jewish/Israelite King Solomon] is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David [King David was Solomon’s father and predecessor] built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings."

But Muslim acknowledgement of the historic, religious and emotional bonds of Jews to their holiest site changed when Jerusalem came under Israel’s control in the 1967 war. Palestinian and Muslim leaders began to revise history in order to expunge the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and indeed all of Israel. During the July 2000 negotiations at Camp David, Yasir Arafat refused to acknowledge Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, claiming the Jewish Temple never existed there. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denies that Jewish Temples ever existed on the Temple Mount, much less that it is Judaism’s holiest site. Palestinian and Muslim religious, political and academic leaders have followed suit, weighing in to describe Jewish history in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount as “delusional,” “fictitious,” and “imaginary.”

In recent years, the Palestinian Authority upped its efforts to change the narrative about Jerusalem.  It turned to international bodies and the Western media to help efface Jewish history and the validity of Jewish claims to Judaism’s holiest city and sites.  Multiple resolutions were introduced in UNESCO challenging the Temple Mount’s Jewish history and declaring “Muslims’ full right over the historical and religious site.” The Palestinians also initiated and succeeded in having the UN Security Council adopt a controversial resolution (UNSC 2334) that labelled all of eastern Jerusalem captured by Israel in 1967 ― which includes the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Old City, Jewish quarter and Jewish holy sites ― “Palestinian territory.”

In 2014, the Palestinian Authority sent out an advisory to journalists, telling them to replace the term “Temple Mount” with “Al Aqsa” compound. This was followed by a broader directive to journalists in 2015, warning them to emphasize that “the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound is under Israeli Occupation just as the rest of East Jerusalem,” that “Israel has effectively changed Al-Aqsa’s Status Quo,” and that Israel was “in violation of international law” – all false propaganda.

Media Downgrades Jewish Claims

The Western media has increasingly abetted these Palestinian propaganda efforts. Far too many journalists today accept the historic revisionism and political falsehoods put out by Palestinian activists and leaders and promote it with a new journalistic stylebook. These journalists adopt the “Al-Aqsa” terminology in precedence over the more established “Temple Mount” name, although the area for the longest time was known as the Temple Mount. Identifying the site with the Jewish Temples that were at the center of the Jewish world long predated the erection of the Al Aqsa mosque on their ruins. 

Journalists derogate the Jewish claim in other ways, as well.

New York Times

Until the PA came out with its 2015 directive to journalists, the holy site was referred to primarily as the Temple Mount, with or without the additional name “Haram al-Sharif” or “Noble Sanctuary” to designate terms used by Arabs to describe the site.

For example:

“The main sticking point remained the Temple Mount, known to Arabs as Haram al-Sharif…” (Jane Perlez, “Summit in New York: Camp David Aftermath,” Sept. 8, 2000)

“Mr. Barak said he would not accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Temples of the ancient Jews, sacred to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, where Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven.” (Deborah Sontag, “Huge Rally in Jerusalem Protests U.S. Proposal to Divide Sovereignty,” Jan. 9, 2001)

After the PA’s media directive was sent, journalists increased their use of the “Al Aqsa Mosque Compound” terminology while retaining the “Temple Mount” when referring to Judaism’s holiest site.

Over the past months, New York Times journalists have further entrenched the term “Al Aqsa Mosque Compound” as the site’s primary designation, with or without the term “Temple Mount,” even when the topic is about Jews visiting their holiest site.  For example:

“Tensions are expected to rise further in the coming days because of the rare convergence between Ramadan and Passover, which began on Friday and is driving more followers of both Islam and Judaism to the Aqsa compound.” (Patrick Kingsley and Raja Abdulrahim, “Israeli Government Crisis Deepens After Closing of Major Mosque,” April 17, 2022)

“The skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount… (Patrick Kingsley, “A Site Holy to Jews and Muslims Returns as a Nexus of Conflict in Israel,” April 23, 2022)

“…the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred in both Islam and Judaism, and known to Jews as the Temple Mount.” (Isabel Kershner, “Coalition Gets Lift in Israel With Return Of Arab Party, May 12, 2022)

But, as demonstrated at the start of this article, the New York Times journalists continue to push the goal post forward, beyond simply using PA-mandated terminology to describe Judaism’s holiest site. Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley’s prioritization of the Muslim claim to the site did not begin with the recent article.  Kingsley had already engaged in linguistic tricks to elevate the Muslim claim over the Jewish one.  For example, he used distancing qualifiers for the Jewish claim alone in  his April 23rd article entitled "Site Holy to Jews and Muslims Returns as a Nexus of Conflict in Israel." He rendered the Muslim claim straightforwardly as a given:

“To Muslims, the mosque compound is the third-holiest in Islam, a site of Muslim prayer for more than a millennium, and the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.”  

But, in sharp contrast, he conveyed the Jewish claim incompletely with distancing qualifiers:

“To many Jews the site is the holiest in Judaism, the location of two ancient temples where tradition holds that God’s presence was revealed.” [emphasis added]

The first qualifier, “to many Jews” is meant to imply that not  all Jews consider the site holy, as opposed to all Muslims who consider the site Islam’s third holiest one.  The second qualifier, “where tradition holds” implies that  those Jews who don’t abide by tradition do not believe this, in comparison to the Prophet Muhammed’s ascension to heaven from the site, which he presents as a given to Muslims. Ironically, while Kingsley suggests that God’s revelation here is just an old tradition, he conceals the fact that according to the same Jewish “tradition”, God’s presence never departed from this holy site.  Instead, Kingsley uses his minimizing cliché to suggest the site’s importance to Jews is solely due to long-ago temples that once stood there, a passé event.  Nor does the reporter ever note the Islamic practice of converting non-Islamic places of worship  into mosques during their conquests.  Christian, Hindu and Zoroastrian temples became the sites  upon which Muslims built mosques.  Both the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock were erected on the Jewish site of worship.

Other media outlets have similarly prioritized the Muslim claim to the holy site over the Jewish one.

Aerial view of the Temple Mount. (Andrew Shiva/Wikimedia)


The Reuters news wire service seems to have adopted the Palestinian-mandated terminology wholesale.  Their journalists often don’t even bother with “Temple Mount” any more. For example:

A recent article about the dispute over the site, “At flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, whispered prayers defy unwritten accord,” by Maayan Lubell, Ali Sawafta and Nidal Al-Mughrabi, led by claiming that “unauthorized prayers by Jewish visitors in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound” raises the stakes “at one of the Middle East's most volatile holy sites.”  The term “Temple Mount” was buried deep inside the article (after some 16 paragraphs), when the authors finally included a reference to Judaism’s holiest site:

“For Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount, it is their holiest site because it housed the two Jewish temples of antiquity.” 

And like the New York Times, Reuters reverses the facts.  It is not Judaism’s holiest site solely “because” it housed two Jewish temples once upon an ancient time. The site was considered the holiest site and designated as the place to build the Temples of God whose presence is believed never to have departed from the site.  

An earlier article by Dan William, “Israeli government and court at odds over Jewish prayer at flashpoint shrine,” similarly relegates the Jewish perspective of the Temple Mount to secondary importance:

Al Aqsa mosque compound, which Jews revere as a vestige of their two ancient temples, is a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.”

The derogation of Judaism’s ties to its holiest site appears to be the rule at Reuters, as exemplified also in an April 21, 2022 article by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Arab League urges Israel to stop Jewish prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque.” The author begins the article with the following lede:

“The Arab League called on Israel on Thursday to end Jewish prayers inside the compound of Islam's third holiest shrine in East Jerusalem, warning it was a flagrant affront to Muslim feelings that could trigger wider conflict.”

Indeed, such a framing gives supports an Arab/Muslim view that the Temple Mount is a Muslim territory to which Jews have no right, history or connection, just what Palestinian leaders ordered up.  If readers do not informed that the compound – which is not the mosque itself, but  the entire area – is the holiest site of Jews, then they are more apt to side with the view that Israel has no rights and is encroaching on Arab territory.  When the article finally does get around to explaining why Jews might want to pray there, it explains their devotion to the site as one “where they believe two ancient temples were located,” putting in doubt even the fact that  Judaism’s holy Temples stood there – a fact supported by ample archaeological and documentary evidence.

CNN International

Model of 2nd Jewish Temple

In describing clashes at the Temple Mount, presenter Hadas Gold has repeatedly referred to “ the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known as the Temple Mount,” putting precedence on the “al Aqsa mosque compound” over the Temple Mount. Presenter Eleni Giokos has gone even further in eroding Israel’s claim by not using the term “Temple Mount” at all but referring to the contested site only as “the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.”  


 On All Things Considered on April 22, 2022, All Things Considered, Ari Shapiro introduced the topic by stating:

“Earlier today, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, was the scene of violence between Palestinians and Israeli riot police. It's a scene that's all too familiar.

Other NPR hosts did not even bother to do that. For example, on an April 28, 2022 Morning Edition segment , Steve Inskeep referred only to the Palestinian-authorized term:

“The unrest came at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, an area controlled by Israel and holy to both Muslims and Jews.”

NPR reporter Daniel Estrin similar dispensed with the term “Temple Mount” to introduce the topic. On a May 11, 2022 Morning Edition broadcast he declared:

“It is a really unstable situation here right now. Palestinians have been carrying out deadly attacks on Israelis in recent weeks, and there have been heightened emotions because nationalist Jewish activists have been visiting and praying at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.”

The only reference to “Temple Mount” came almost as an afterthought, and as a secondary reference, as less important than its primary designation as a Muslim holy site:

 “…all of these tensions were around the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. It's sacred to Muslims, also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Wall Street Journal

An April 25, 2022 article by Dov Lieber and Shalom Goodman, entitled “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What to Know as Clashes Continue in Jerusalem” noted that:

“There have been near-daily clashes since April 15 between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem’s most sensitive site, the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, called the Temple Mount by Jews.”

The message that is conveyed is that the holy site is a Muslim one – the al Aqsa Mosque – although Jews use their own idiosyncratic name for it.

The degradation of Israel’s claim to its holiest site is further emphasized in another article by Dov Lieber, “East Jerusalem Plans Spark Opportunity, Ire,” July 30. 2022.  There he presents Israeli security management of the Temple Mount  -- under the Status Quo regarding the holy site, Israel is responsible for the security of the holy site – as part of  “Israeli efforts  to project authority in Jerusalem.”

Lieber and the other  journalists who engage in such revisionism seem uninformed about the history of the Temple Mount and what the Status Quo means.

What is the Status Quo?

Upon Israel’s 1967 capture of eastern Jerusalem containing Judaism’s holiest sites, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan immediately ordered soldiers to remove an Israeli flag that had been raised over the Temple Mount. He declared:

“To our Arab neighbors we extend the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved. We did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Places of others.” (Meron Benvenisti, Jerusalem: The Torn City, Isratypeset, Jerusalem, 1976)

He then handed administrative control over the Temple Mount to Jordan’s Islamic Waqf, and banned Jews from holding prayer services there. At the same time, Israel retained sovereignty and security control of the area and permitted non-Muslims, including Jews, to visit the site and no flags were to be displayed on the site.  This became the “status quo” on the Temple Mount.  It was an unwritten, informal arrangement to allow Muslims to continue to pray on the Temple Mount while Jews would pray at the Western Wall below, the retaining wall of the Temple Mount compound built by Israelite King Herod.  

Soon after gaining control over the Holy Basin of eastern Jerusalem in 1967, Israel passed the Protection of Holy Places Law (1967), granting special legal status to the Holy Sites and making it a criminal offence to desecrate or violate, or impede freedom of access to them, in sharp contrast to Jordan’s desecration, violation and prevention of access to the holy sites during its 19-year occupation of Jerusalem. Under this law, the Minister of Religious Affairs is responsible for the implementation of the law, and thus has the authority to regulate prayer for any religious group, including Jews, on the Mount. Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, bowing to the desires of the Muslim Waqf, maintained a status quo of prohibiting Jewish prayer at the site. The Israeli Supreme Court, as well, while acknowledging that Jews have the legal right to access and worship on the Temple Mount, has declined to officially alter the de facto ban on Jewish prayer at the site.

But the status quo has changed since 1967 – and contrary to what the media would have one believe – not all in favor of the Jews.  Journalist and scholar Nadav Shragai has detailed the changes in the status quo and how they have actually strengthened the Muslim hold on the site. He points out that:

  • Muslims have inaugurated four new mosques on the Temple Mount since 1967, including the Dome of the Rock, was not originally a mosque; the El-Marwani Mosque, in what was called Solomon’s Stables underneath; the “Ancient Al-Aqsa” Mosque, under the existing upper mosque; and the Gate of Mercy (Golden Gate) prayer area, which became a mosque in 2019.
  • Whereas Jews were originally allowed access to all of the Temple Mount, through two different gates, visiting hours and days of the week they are allowed to enter the Temple Mount are now limited as are the areas of the Temple Mount they are permitted to visit. And they can only enter through the Mughrabi gate.
  • While flags were not to be displayed on the Temple Mount, flags of Hamas, the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, and Hib al-Tahrir are often unfurled there. The only flag that has had to be removed following Muslim protest as a small desk flag in the Israeli police station there.
  • Under the status quo, Israeli sovereignty was extended to the mount. Initially, Israel’s antiquity law was strictly enforced with careful supervision of excavations and the handling of antiquities. Israel’s Planning and Building law was also partially enforced, but supervisors from the Jerusalem Municipality are no longer allowed on the mount and the Israel Antiquities Authority is limited in its supervision there.  As a result, there have been periods where the Waqf flouted the Antiquities and Building laws, excavated and built improperly, without supervision, and destroyed archeological evidence of the site’s Jewish history. (See “The Battle Over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount – Chapter: Physical Attempts to Change the Status Quo.”)    
  • Muslims have redefined their holy site to encompass the entirety of the Temple Mount compound. Whereas, the mount was originally called “Al Haram al-Sharif” or “Noble Sanctuary” on which the Al-Aqsa mosque took up a portion, now the entire compound is considered one giant mosque which Muslims label “Al Aqsa.” This is a political, rather than historical view.
  • Initially, most Orthodox rabbis prohibited Jews from entering the Temple Mount because of the risk that someone ritually unpure might tread on the site of the Holy of Holies whose precise location is not known. But increasing numbers of rabbis have begun to permit entry to the Temple Mount, believing they have determined where one can stand without touching the holy soil.  As a result, there has been a considerable increase in the numbers of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount. More recently, some Jewish visitors have begun to pray on the eastern part of the Temple Mount in a “nondemonstrative” manner (without prayer books or shawls), under the surveillance of the police.

Of all the changes, journalists have primarily focused on the last two: They've accepted the redefinition entire compound as part of the “Al Aqsa mosque” and they've highlighted private and discreet Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount as the only significant change in the status quo.  Such focus and presentation of the disputed holy site, whether deliberate or not, amounts to taking sides in the conflict – which is, ultimately, an abandonment of journalistic ethics.  

Comments are closed.