“Show about nothing.” Israeli ambassador Gilad Erdan paraphrased Jerry Seinfeld in his speech at the emergency meeting of the Security Council summoned by the United Arab Emirates and China to discuss the new National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the most sacred and disputed site in Jerusalem. This is the first time since 2017 that an Israeli Minister has visited the site, known by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, which is administered by Jordan.
Of the statements made by all fifteen member states of the Security Council, including the United States, the meeting did not at all appear “about nothing,” but the contrary. Every ambassador considered the new Minister’s visit a dangerous provocation of the most far-right government in the history of Israel. Although the visit was brief, it could signal Israel’s opposition to the “status quo” determined by the accords drafted with Jordan after the war in 1967. Despite Israel’s recent denial of these claims, a moment of great tension was felt additionally due to recent statements from prime minister Netanyahu regarding the Jewish right to the entire “historic” land of Israel, which includes the Israeli-occupied West Bank, also referred to as Judea and Samaria.
As the meeting commenced, ambassadors were informed of the situation by Khalid Khiari, an assistant to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, who expressed concern for the developments and the growing tensions and violence in the occupied West Bank.
On Monday, the new National Security Minister of Israel and leader of the far-right party Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the holy sites, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, in the historical center of Jerusalem. According to reports, he was escorted by a large entourage for security measures.
Near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there have been clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. “While the visit was not accompanied or followed by violence, it is seen as particularly inflammatory given Mr. Ben-Gvir’s past advocacy for changes to the status-quo.” Khiari stated.
The Palestinian Authority and international community strongly condemned the visit viewing it as provocative in a moment of particularly high tensions. “As we have seen numerous times in the past, the situation at Jerusalem’s holy site is highly fragile and any incident or tension there can spill over and cause violence in any part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in Israel, and elsewhere in the region,” Khiari continued.
“With that reality in that in mind, I reiterate the Secretary General’s call for all parties to refrain from steps that could escalate tensions in and around the holy sites, and for all to uphold the status quo in line with the special Kingdom of Hashemite Jordan.”
Khiari affirmed that the United Nations has been in close contact with all parties in efforts to deescalate tensions. “At this sensitive moment, all efforts to lower tensions should be encouraged while provocations, inflammatory steps, unilateral actions, and threats of violence must be categorically rejected. Leaders on all sides have the responsibility to lower the flames and create the conditions for calm.”
In his speech, the representative of the Palestinian authority, ambassador Riyad Mansour, insisted on the fact that the Israeli minister did not go to the holy site just for a visit. Rather Ben-Gvir “is pursuing the same extremist agenda he has pursued all his life – ending the historic status quo,” the Palestinian representative said, adding “that is his objective regardless of the consequences. The same agenda he was elected on and joined the Israeli government to advance.”
Haram al-Sharif lies in East Occupied Jerusalem, an integral part of the occupied Palestine territory, Mansour reminded the Council. “Israel has no claim and no right to sovereignty over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and therefore no rightful claim over Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” Mansour insisted that there cannot be peace without resolving the question of Jerusalem.
“The future of conflict and peace in our region will be determined in Jerusalem, not any other capital around the world,” Masour said. “Anybody who says otherwise is either delusional or lying.”
The Israeli ambassador Gilad Erdan, before speaking in front of the Security Council, had summoned journalists to express his “surprise” that the Security Council was holding a special meeting. Erdan said to journalists Israel did not attempt or have desire to change the “status quo” of Temple Mount. He added that the minister’s visit, lasting only minutes, was normal as the agreement states that all Jews are permitted to visit the site.
The Israeli ambassador then proceeded with his speech to the Security Council. In a sarcastic tone he expressed he was “overjoyed” to learn that the Council had called an emergency session on a “quiet, orderly, and uneventful visit” by the minister to the Temple Mount: “I figured that if this important body is meeting to discuss such a trivial matter, then we clearly achieved world peace overnight.” Erdan expressed, mocking his interlocutors. “After all, why else would this council dedicate its time to such a menial occurrence?”
In the midst of the speech to the Security Council, the ambassador then made a reference to the popular television program by Jerry Seinfeld: “Sadly, this meeting, which creates a sense of emergency over a non-event, reminds me of the words of the famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld who described his show as a ‘show about nothing.’”
The Israeli diplomat insisted that the minister’s visit aligned with the “status quo” and that those with an opposing stance only exacerbate the situation. “Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount. Every Jew! Including the Minister tasked with the security and Safety of the Temple Mount,” the Israeli ambassador recalled. He then placed the blame on Palestinians claiming they would rather turn the site into a battle ground than protect its sanctity. “Time and again, the mosques are used as arsenals, where terrorists keep rocks and explosives to attack Jewish visitors and security forces.” Erdan added. “The hallowed ground is used as a platform for Palestinian incitement, poisoning the minds of youth and stoking the flames of violence.”
The passion with which the Israeli ambassador expressed several points of his speech hardly echoed his previously mentioned “about nothing” attitude. Erdan, reiterating the history of the thousands-year-old dispute, reminded the Council of the importance of praying on the West Wall to Jews: “The Western Wall is the only surviving structure from the Second Jewish Temple compound. Our Temple – that was located on the Temple Mount – was the holiest place to the Jewish people, but it was destroyed by others and we were left only with the Western Wall. Many don’t know this and I’m not surprised. After all, for years now, the Palestinians have orchestrated and advanced a poisonous campaign to obliterate any trace or connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. They exploit every means, both in words and actions, to promote these lies.”
As Erdan continued, his tone more closely reflected a lecture on history, archeology, and religion than an address to the Security Council, “Here at the UN, they advance libelous resolutions, just like the one adopted in the General Assembly last week, deliberately erasing the Jewish name of the compound, by referring to it only by its Muslim name, Haram al Sharif. And tragically, many Member States submit to these lies, despite the indisputable, indisputable proof and archaeological evidence proving the Temple Mount’s true history.”
At a certain point, Erdan recalled: “Long before Jesus overturned the money changers’ tables in Jerusalem, or Abd al-Malik built Haram al Sharif, the Jewish people have seen the Temple Mount as the center of our universe. It was there that God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Where King David built an altar to God. Where King Solomon constructed the first holy Temple three-thousand years ago. Where the Second Temple was rebuilt twenty-five-hundred years ago. And it is the exact point to which every Jew, every Jew is commanded to pray towards three times a day.”
The Israeli ambassador concluded: “According to Jewish tradition, we believe that the Temple Mount will one day, one day will be a place of peace and coexistence. As Isaiah prophesied in the name of God: “I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; for My House shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” While the Temple Mount is sadly not yet a house of prayer for all nations, it is still the right of every Jew – no matter what title they hold – to at least, at least visit this holiest of holy spots. Jews will continue visiting the Temple Mount and whoever believes in tolerance and coexistence, should support that.”
Despite his lecture, the Israeli ambassador appeared isolated within the Security Council. Even the American representative, Ambassador Robert Wood (Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs), albeit with a less convictive tone, considered the Israeli Minister’s visit inopportune during a period of heightened tensions.
Upon exiting the Security Council meeting, none of the ambassadors presented themselves at the microphones in the stakeout to respond to press. We managed to approach the American diplomat while he was walking away to try and better understand the position of the United States on the matter.
La Voce di New York: Ambassador Wood, your Israeli colleague said that today’s meeting resembled a Seinfeld episode. Does the United States feel that the visit merited calling a meeting of the Security Council? Is there a risk of an escalation or not?
Ambassador Wood: “You heard from our statement that we’re concerned about any unilateral acts that could increase the possibility of violence, so we are concerned about that. I am not going to respond to how one ambassador described an event…Obviously you heard our statement, and we want to make sure that there isn’t any violence that comes from any unilateral acts going forward.”
The US Embassy in Jerusalem was one of the first to express concern regarding the Israeli Minister’s visit. Immediately after, Benjamin Netanyahu stated firmly: Israel does not intend to change the status-quo. Is Israel’s backpedaling influenced by the swift reaction from the United States?
“That is a sovereign government. Israel is going to decide what it’s going to do but we took note of what was said by him, and we’ll just have to see how he decides to proceed on that, but I think we have to take him at his word. He’s an elected prime minister and responsible for Israel’s security and for what his government does.”
President Biden has been criticized in the past for not responding adequately to the worsening crisis between Palestine and Israel. Is this occasion any different?
“President Biden has spoken many times about the situation in the region and he is very concerned about it, and we are trying as a government everything we can to calm tensions.”
Translated by Ian Udulutch