JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli panel weighed a request on Sunday to disqualify a candidate of a powerful far-right party from running in a January 22 election for alluding in a speech to the possibility of seeing one of Islam’s holiest shrines in Jerusalem “blown up.”
The controversy is over a United States-born parliamentary nominee with the pro-settler Jewish Home party, one of the more serious contenders against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though polls still predict he will win Tuesday’s vote.
In a videotaped recording broadcast by Israeli television stations, Jeremy Gimpel is shown as saying in a 2011 speech in Florida, in reference to a Jerusalem holy site seen as part of a core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
“Imagine today if the dome, the golden dome, the dome, I‘m being recorded so I can’t say, blown up. But let’s say the dome was blown up, right? And we laid the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem, can you imagine?”
The Dome of the Rock, a golden topped Islamic shrine in Jerusalem’s old walled city, is built at a site revered by Muslims as where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.
Jews also cherish the area, they call the Temple Mount, as the place where two biblical Jewish temples once stood.
A member of the centrist Kadima party headed by defense chief Shaul Mofaz demanded the Israel Central Elections Committee disqualify Gimpel’s candidacy, saying his remarks violated laws against racial incitement.
Committee chairman and retired Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein responded in a statement he had not seen the videotape because it was broadcast on the Jewish sabbath, when Orthodox Jews are barred from watching television.
He urged Yoel Hasson, the lawmaker who made the complaint, to submit a more exhaustive argument including a videotape or a link, so he may give the case further consideration.
He added Gimpel’s remarks “seem on the face of it to be very bad.”
In remarks to an Israeli television channel, Gimpel denied on Sunday he had intended to call for the holy site’s destruction, and that he was opposed to any such act.
“When I said what I did it was in parody of the fanatics who want to blow up the Temple Mount therefore it was a joke,” said Gimpel, who added the comment was made during what he called “an innocent lecture on the Bible.”
Israeli militants have been jailed in the past for plotting to attack the site, some of them citing a so-called messianic goal to rebuild a Jewish temple there.
Gimpel said his party, which has called for the annexing of parts of the territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for a state, was against committing any acts of violence at the Jerusalem holy site.
“There is nobody in the ‘Jewish Home’ who calls for violence at the Temple Mount, who call to blow up anything. The holy temple was destroyed because of hatred,” he said.
The party is one of some half a dozen factions in Israel’s parliament, and polls predict it may win about 12 seats in the election which could earn it a role as a key powerbroker in Netanyahu’s next government.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Sophie Hares