Skip to main content

Ben-Gvir’s visit to Jerusalem holy site draws US rebuke

The Biden administration expressed concern over Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the flashpoint site revered by both Muslims and Jews.
Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel's new Minister of National Security and leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, greets supporters during a visit to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market on Dec. 30, 2022.

The US State Department on Tuesday warned that the visit by Israel’s new hardline national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to a contested Jerusalem holy site could further fuel tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. 

“We're deeply concerned by this visit,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, without mentioning Ben-Gvir by name. “This visit has the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence.” 

In what the Palestinians considered a serious provocation, Ben-Gvir early Tuesday morning briefly toured the third holiest site in Islam and the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. The 35-acre walled compound, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. 

The sacred hilltop area is the scene of regular clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, which in May 2021 set off an 11-day war with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. In October 2000, a visit by then-right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon ignited the violence that spawned the second intifada. 

In recent years, the Palestinians have accused Israel of violating the prohibition on Jews and Christians praying there. Ben-Gvir’s ultranationalist Jewish Power party wants to increase the number of visits by Jewish worshippers to the site. 

The firebrand politician is not reported to have prayed at the sensitive site on Tuesday, but his 13-minute long visit drew widespread condemnation across the region

Jordan, the custodian of the site, condemned what it called a “flagrant violation of international law.” The United Arab Emirates, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020, accused Ben-Gvir of “storming” the area. Turkey called it “a provocative act.” 

Shortly after his visit, Ben-Gvir tweeted that “the Temple Mount is open to everyone.” 

“If Hamas thinks that if it threatens me, it will deter me, let them understand that times have changed,” he said, referring to warnings from the militants that such a visit would amount to “a red line.”

Price said Tuesday the Biden administration opposes “any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo,” which he said was up to the parties themselves to define.

His visit comes days after the swearing-in of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the most right-wing and religious in Israel’s history. The inclusion of Ben-Gvir — a Jewish settler once convicted of inciting racism against Arabs — in the governing coalition is of particular concern for the Biden administration. As national security minister, Ben-Gvir will oversee the border police in the occupied West Bank. 

The Biden administration has mostly refrained from commenting on Ben-Gvir, and says it will deal with the Israeli government based on its policies, not “individual personalities.” 

Price said he was not aware of any direct contact with Ben-Gvir, but said the US administration spoke with Netanyahu’s office on Tuesday regarding his visit. 

The new Israeli government’s platform calls for the preservation of the historic status quo at the holy sites. Netanyahu, who reportedly urged Ben-Gvir to postpone his visit, released a statement Tuesday saying his government would not seek changes in the delicate arrangement.  

“We expect him to follow through on that commitment,” Price said.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Israel Briefing Israel Briefing

Israel Briefing

Top Israel stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial