(JTA) – The prime minister of Malaysia, appealing to Israel to tamp down Temple Mount tensions, quoted Jewish sage Hillel and called for a “new dawn” in Muslim-Jewish relations.
“Given the Rosh Hashanah violations of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and aggression against its worshippers three weeks ago, I call on the Israeli government to live up to Judaism’s highest ethical principles, and the essential message of the Torah as succinctly expressed by the first century B.C. sage Hillel,” said Najib Razak, addressing the United Nations General Assembly opening on Thursday.
“When asked to describe the Torah in a soundbite, [Hillel] said: ‘That which is hateful to you, don’t do to your fellow human being,’” Razak said. “This dictum, known universally in all religions as the Golden Rule, could herald the dawn of a much needed revised relationship between Muslims and Jews.”
Israel rejects charges that it is behind the tensions on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and holy to both faiths. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking not long before Razak, blamed Palestinians for inciting the recent tensions by misrepresenting Israeli actions.
Israel has since capturing the Temple Mount in the 1967 Six Day War observed a “status quo” that allows Jews to visit the mount, adjacent to the Western Wall, but not worship there. Palestinians claim Israel is allowing Jewish groups to enter the mount to worship; Israel says Palestinians at the site have been increasingly aggressive toward Jews who are merely visiting.
“Currently Israel has forced its authority over Islam’s third holiest site – in defiance of the jurisdiction of King Abdullah of Jordan, the lawful Custodian,” Razak said. “It is therefore Israel’s duty to facilitate Muslims from around the world to visit. For this is an aspiration that all devout Muslims harbor and pray to be able to realize in their lifetime.”
Despite Razak’s criticisms, it was notable for a Malaysian leader to speak positively about Judaism and to recognize Israel as a legitimate interlocutor. Malaysia is a formally Muslim state and some of Razak’s predecessors were hostile to Israel and to Jews.