When US ambassador to Israel David Friedman received a framed photograph of the Old City of Jerusalem last month it confirmed something obvious: Donald Trump’s envoys don’t just support the positions of Israel’s far-right government but stand even further to the right of it.
The picture showed the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque photoshopped out and replaced with a Jewish temple.
In the photo, first published by the Israeli news site Kikar HaShabbat, Friedman is seen grinning from ear to ear while being presented with the framed image, just days after he presided over the US moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Friedman appears to be delighted at the erasure of the al-Aqsa compound, among the most monumental architecture in historic Palestine, one of the principal sites revered by Muslims all over the world and an iconic symbol of Palestinian identity and nationalism.
The doctored image represents the fantasies of followers of the Temple movement, messianic Jewish extremists who seek the destruction of the al-Aqsa compound and its replacement with a Jewish temple where they would conduct ritual animal sacrifice of around 10,000 animals at a time on Jewish holy days.
The group’s religious supporters believe building the temple will speed up the transition of Israel’s system of government from a mostly secular ethnocracy that privileges Jews, into total theocracy, where Orthodox Judaism is the only law of the land.
The movement’s secular supporters would lose many liberties under a Jewish theocracy, but they campaign for the construction of a Jewish temple regardless, believing it would mean slam-dunking on the Palestinian national movement once and for all.
Over the years, Ariel has held fast to Kahane’s genocidal views. In 2015, he called to assassinate then-US President Barack Obama, and for a Jewish army to conquer the entire Middle East, including Iran and Turkey, destroying all mosques and churches and killing all Muslims and Christians who do not renounce their religions.
After Friedman’s picture was published, the US embassy to Israel insisted that – despite appearances to the contrary – the photo did not represent any change in Washington’s official stance on al-Aqsa, stating, “The US policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
The embassy also claimed that Friedman “was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken.”
But the Temple movement is so certain that the current US administration does in fact quietly support its maximalist goals that it recently minted a coin in honor of Trump.
The coin bears Trump’s face, alongside that of Cyrus the Great, a king of ancient Persia who Jewish tradition holds allowed the construction of a temple on the same spot about 2,500 years ago.
As for Friedman, it would not be out of character for him to support a movement led by supporters of Kahane who want to turn Israel into a total theocracy.
Just days before the US embassy move, it emerged that until the moment he was appointed US ambassador to Israel, Friedman headed a group – American Friends of Beit El Yeshiva Center – that funded the far-right Israeli organization Komemiut.
The Kushners even made a donation to the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva, a religious seminary in the occupied West Bank whose head rabbi Yitzhak Shapira had authored The King’s Torah.
Lior, notably, is one of the rabbis who issued religious edicts that made Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin fair game for the assassin who shot him dead in November 1995 because he had signed the Oslo agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Far-right ideology goes mainstream
The ideology of Israel’s far-right is gradually being adopted by the mainstream.
But if Friedman and Kushner have been supporting Israel’s most racist rabbis, they have not acted alone in this.
Yisrael Ariel’s Temple Institute receives funding from Israel’s education ministry to teach Jewish youth, religious and secular, about Jewish temples, past and future.
Dov Lior’s Komemiut movement has hosted at its conferences not only government lawmakers and ministers, but also opposition lawmakers from the supposedly centrist parties Labor, Zionist Union and Yesh Atid, as well as former and current judges of Israel’s high court.
And the Derech Chaim movement, headed by founder of the Kushner-funded Od Yosef Chai seminary, is now supporting legislation that would neuter that very high court, stripping it of the ability – which the court seldom uses anyway – to nullify laws that discriminate against Palestinians, other non-Jews and minority groups in general.
The fact that Trump’s envoys to Israel are signaling their support for these extremist groups, who all aspire to replace the al-Aqsa mosque with a Jewish temple, is indeed worrying. But it is especially unsettling when one considers that until relatively recently, these beliefs were nearly absent from the mainstream political discourse, even in Israel.
Just a few years ago, the Temple movement’s chief advocate in the Knesset was Moshe Feiglin, considered a far-right extremist.
In 1997, Feiglin was convicted of incitement because of the violent protests the movement he led engaged in prior to the assassination of Rabin, and for calling for actions against Palestinians.
But in more recent years, Feiglin and his followers worked from within the ruling Likud Party to promote his goals, including support for a Jewish temple.
And while he lost four Likud leadership races to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Feiglin’s presence in the party – and his promotion to deputy speaker of the Knesset – legitimized the most extreme sentiments of Israel’s far right.
During Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, Feiglin – then deputy speaker – called for the “conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters.”
He called for the Palestinian civilian population to be deprived of water and electricity, “concentrated” in tent encampments along the Egyptian border and then expelled.
Increasingly frustrated at his inability to unseat Netanyahu, Feiglin eventually started his own political party in 2015, Zehut.
There have been no elections since he formed the party, and polls indicate Zehut would struggle to break the minimum threshold to enter the Knesset if it ran on its own.
But Feiglin’s efforts to pull Netanyahu’s Likud Party even further to the right were wildly successful.
In recent years, multiple ministers in Netanyahu’s government have publicly embraced the goals of the Temple movement.
Just two weeks ago, Israel’s Jerusalem affairs minister Zeev Elkin, also vying to become Israel’s next mayor of Jerusalem, announced the launch of a new government body to promote Temple movement propaganda, or hasbara.
The new body reportedly has the blessing of Netanyahu.
Now that Feiglin’s fanatical fantasies are receiving a tailwind from top Israeli officials, and even from Trump’s ambassador David Friedman, it might be prudent to take note of Feiglin’s current activities, as they could very well foretell Israel’s trajectory, if its reactionary leaders are left to their own devices.
Campaign video portrays politician slaying Palestinians
To be fair, incitement against Palestinian people, their leaders and others defending their rights has long been a staple of Israeli political discourse.
In 2015, for example, Avigdor Lieberman – then Israel’s foreign minister and today its defense minister – called for Palestinian citizens of Israel who he deemed disloyal to the state to be decapitated.
But anti-Palestinian provocations recently hit a new low, with incitement to murder moving from the verbal domain to video.
In a new campaign video, Zehut’s Moshe Feiglin is depicted killing Palestinians, as well as Israelis and others whom he considers insufficiently hawkish.
The six-minute video, which has since been taken offline, depicts Feiglin as a swordsman, hacking and slashing through a legion of enemies, including Palestinian member of the Knesset Ahmad Tibi and a series of characters with flags labelling them as the embodiment of Palestine, the European Union and the United Nations.
Feiglin is also portrayed slaying characters meant to represent liberal Zionist Israeli organizations, such as the New Israel Fund and Women of the Wall.
A character representing the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz is also killed by decapitation, and the death blow is delivered by a soldier with the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Viewers are not left wondering whether this wanton killing should mostly fall on Feiglin’s shoulders.
The video also depicts Feiglin delivering his political manifesto to his soldiers assembled for battle. One of the gladiators – who include popular pundits from Israel’s far-right – is heard shouting back to Feiglin, “We are with you, sire! For freedom – to the death!”
The film was uploaded on 18 May by the Facebook page “Make Israel Great Again,” an account belonging to Feiglin’s Zehut party, but it had already been removed by 23 May.
It is unclear whether the video was taken down because its fight sequences contain unlicensed footage from a Hollywood feature film, 2014’s 300: Rise of an Empire, or because the video could constitute incitement to violence.
Other postings on the same page clearly incite the killing of Palestinian political leaders.
While Israel is quick to convict Palestinians it accuses of “incitement” over innocuous Facebook postings including poems, Jewish citizens are hardly ever charged with the crime, much less convicted, although the Internet, especially Facebook is chock full of their calls to visit suffering and pain on Palestinians.
As such, Feiglin is unlikely to suffer any negative repercussions over the video.
But if Israeli support for far-right opinions only increased during the Obama administration, how long will it be before Feiglin’s message to murder Palestinians and and their alleged allies becomes normalized with Trump in the White House and the likes of Friedman and Kushner leading US policy on Israel?