The US State Department issued its annual report on world religious freedom for the year 2022 on Monday. The section of the report titled “Israel, West Bank, and Gaza” contained over 22,000 words on Israel, 3,000 more words than the State Department used to describe the situation in Islamist Iran. But all of those words were used to describe the situation in Israel, much of it critical, and not one word described the abuse of religious freedoms in Gaza or in areas under Palestinian Authority supervision.
In one case, the report discussed education in the Palestinian Authority. While noting that students are required to attend courses in religion, the report failed to mention the antisemitic agenda that led to bills in Congress and the European Union that would predicate funding to UNRWA on removing antisemitism from its textbooks.
In another case, the report cited alleged brutality by the Israeli police at the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh but failed to mention the abduction of her body by Islamists and the ensuing riots and incitement.
The report also cited sources described as “human rights and civil society organizations”. While Israel hosts more foreign NGOs than any other country in the world, many of them only report alleged violations by Israel while ignoring those carried out by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
The report warned against escalating far-right Jewish activism at the Temple Mount. In practice, this activism took the form of Jews exercising their legal right to pray at the site. While calling for equality of religious expression at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox Jews, the report was critical of freedom of religious expression by Orthodox Jews on the Temple Mount.
“The status quo arrangement that allows non-Muslims to visit the Haram alSharif/Temple Mount but forbids them from praying there continued to erode during the past year, according to the Jerusalem-based NGO Ir Amim,” the report said.”The organization reported that despite Israeli officials committing to the status quo, daily Jewish prayers continued with the approval and supervision of the police.”
Ir Amim is foreign-funded and also receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute. NGO Monitor noted that Ir Amim has described Israel as an “apartheid state”.
“Although it has been described as ‘work[ing] toward coexistence in Jerusalem,’ an Ir Amim official was quoted as saying that the group was “seeking to advance a political agenda, and was not an organization geared to promote coexistence,” NGO Monitor wrote. “Ir Amim frequently accuses Israel of attempting to ‘Judaize’ Jerusalem and promotes the Palestinian narrative on the city, including claims that ‘government powers are being handed over to the settler organizations’ and archeological digs have become an important ‘tool in the fight for control’ over Jerusalem.”
It is egregious for the State Department to rely on a blatantly anti-Israel NGO as a source.
The only case of “far-right activism” other than prayer cited in the report was when six Jews were arrested while attempting to bring a goat to the Temple Mount to sacrifice for the Passover holiday.
“Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the historic status quo at the Haram alSharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials,” the report said.
The report did not mention the Waqf declaration that the Shaar Harachamim (Golden Gate) area is a Muslim mosque. This is the fourth additional -mosque that has been declared in the Temple Mount Compound since Israel conquered the site in 1967.
It also cited a case in which Israeli police allowed Muslim worshippers to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque only if they agreed to hand over their identification cards to police which, the report claimed, was a violation of their freedom of worship. It should be noted that Jews may only enter the site after presenting their ID cards and undergoing a full-body security check.
The report also recorded that “during September celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish activists, including former Member of Knesset (MK) Yehuda Glick and current MK Simcha Rothman, blew shofars and raised Israeli flags on graves at the Bab alRahma Muslim cemetery located outside the Old City walls and adjacent to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.” This was inaccurate as no Israeli flags were placed on graves. The police arrested Rabbi Glick and the other activists several times despite the courts throwing the cases out and even fining the police as it is not illegal for Jews to blow the shofar in Jerusalem.
The report was also critical of the Israeli police using crowd control measures on the Temple Mount in response to Arab “protesters” who were “reportedly launching fireworks, stones, and Molotov cocktails from the mosque.”
In some respects, the report was even-handed. It reported on cases of Jews vandalizing Arab properties while also reporting when Arabs vandalized Jewish properties. At the same time, the report dedicated considerably more space to right-wing Orthodox opposition to egalitarian worship at the Western Wall than it did to antisemitic attacks on Israelis.
The report criticized restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. The Western Wall is a prayer space that is open to all religions to pray freely however non-Orthodox practices are considered insulting and a desecration of Judaism by Orthodox Jews. There is a dedicated egalitarian prayer space directly to the south of the Western Wall plaza.