Naftali Bennett

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a news conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 21, 2021. 

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office backtracked on his statement claiming that Jews had “freedom of worship” on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Allowing Jews freedom of worship there would be a major change at a contested holy site that has been the origin of wider outbreaks of violence.

Israel has controlled the Temple Mount, which Muslims revere as the Noble Sanctuary, since it captured the site from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, but the mount is administered by the Islamic Waqf, a joint Jordanian-Palestinian religious body. Jews and other non-Muslims are prohibited from praying there and may visit only during limited hours.

Bennett’s statement on Sunday came as more than 1,000 Jews went to the mount in observance of Tisha B’Av, a fast day commemorating the destruction of the two Jewish Holy Temples that stood at the site. He thanked public security officials for “managing the events on the Temple Mount with responsibility and consideration, while maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”

On Monday, Bennett’s spokesperson said he had not meant to suggest a change to regulations there.

“There is no change in the status quo,” Bennett’s spokesman Matan Sidi said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “There is continuity from the last government in the [current] government’s policy on the Temple Mount.”

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount in April and May preceded interethnic Jewish-Arab violence in cities across Israel, as well as a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza over 11 days. On Sunday, police and protesters clashed again on the mount. JN