Amid the Palestinian terrorist campaign in recent weeks, the Temple Mount has taken center stage, prompting a loud and growing chorus of extremists to try to exploit the situation for political gain. Hurling abuse at their opponents, and blaming them for Israel's woes, these radicals are putting forward a vision that, if implemented, would bring tragedy upon us all.
It is therefore time for Israeli society to take a stand and decisively declare: we will not cast our lot with those who seek to deny or sever the Jewish connection with our holiest place. After all, the real Temple Mount extremists are not those who long to visit the site or pray there, but those who denigrate and try to silence them.
Whatever one might think about the political fate of Jerusalem, it is simply impossible to deny the central role that the dream of a rebuilt Temple plays in Jewish belief. Like it or not, the longing for a restoration of the Temple is no less central to our faith than the desire for peace or social justice.
Ever since that dark day more than 19 centuries ago when the Roman legions set the Second Temple ablaze, the Jewish people have nourished the hope of returning to the Mount.
Indeed, since Talmudic times, Jews have concluded the Amida prayer, recited thrice daily, with the following plea: "May it be Your will, O Lord our God and the God of our forefathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days."
Does that mean that our ancestors were "extremists" for the past 1,500 years without even knowing it? And just last month, in the Mussaf prayer recited on Succot, we implored God to "be compassionate to us and to Your Temple with great mercy, and rebuild it soon and magnify its glory."
Anyone who paints Jews who wish to visit the Temple Mount, or who dare to dream of a restored Temple, as wild-eyed wackos is engaging in a frontal assault on Jewish practice and belief. Enough with such derision and childish name-calling! Take, for example, the reaction to remarks made by deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who told the Knesset Channel on Monday that her "dream is to see the Israeli flag flying over the Temple Mount. This is the holiest place for the Jewish people." While she later clarified that this was her personal opinion and did not reflect official government policy, her proud and patriotic comments provoked an inexplicably harsh reaction.
In a fit of outrage, MK Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union demanded that Hotovely be dismissed from her position immediately, asserting that, "With the stubbornness of a donkey, the messianic deputy minister continues to incite the entire Middle East."
Why should a Jew dreaming of raising an Israeli flag over our people's most sacred site warrant such verbal abuse? And from a member of Knesset, no less! What does Hasson think our ancestors meant when they recited "Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem"? Does he think they were referring to the refurbished Waldorf Astoria hotel on Agron street? The Jewish people's emotional, religious and mystical bond with the Temple Mount is something that cuts across political boundaries. When left-wing foreign minister Tzipi Livni told The New York Times Sunday Magazine on July 8, 2007, that, "My existence here comes out of the connection between me and Temple Mount. This is the umbilical cord. It comes from Jerusalem," she wasn't unwittingly joining the so-called fringe.
And when Berl Katznelson, one of the founding fathers of socialist Labor Zionism, visited the Temple Mount in 1918 and declared, "The Temple Mount makes the heart beat faster and overflow," he didn't join the ranks of the fanatics.
These sentiments are part and parcel of Jewish national consciousness. Vilifying those who hold them is simply an act of small-minded intolerance and bigotry, and it has no place in the current debate.
Criticism should instead be directed at those who uphold the discriminatory policy now in place which allows the disciples of Muhammad to pray where Solomon's Temple once stood, while denying the same right to the followers of Moses.
Indeed, all the enlightened defenders of civil rights, and the self-appointed champions of equality before the law suddenly fall silent when capitulation to Muslim threats is given preference over respecting fundamental Jewish rights.
It is so obvious that it shouldn't need to be said, but when Palestinian Arabs seek to prevent Israeli Jews from visiting the Temple Mount or exercising their basic right to pray, it is the responsibility of the decision-makers to come to the defense of the latter rather than yield to the former.
So let's stop bad-mouthing those Jews who want to visit or pray where our forefathers once stood.
Dreaming of Jewish destiny is not extremism. But denying and disparaging it most certainly is.