From March 6-12, 2021, anti-Israel groups American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and UK-based Friends of Al-Aqsa held an all-virtual Aqsa Week, described on AMP’s website as “programs and educational webinars... that focused on Jerusalem, its Islamic significance...the Prophetic connection to Palestine to[sic] the dark era of the Crusades and US/UK policy towards Jerusalem.”
Many events, however, featured speakers who veered into inflammatory rhetoric, including calling for the use of physical force to conquer Jerusalem (and at times all of Israel) and labeling the State of Israel as “foreign” and a “cancer” in the region akin to the Christian Crusader fortresses. Some espoused conspiracy theories denying the existence of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and claiming there are Israeli plans to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque there and re-build the Jewish Temple in its place.
In several cases, panelists spoke of a legitimate Jewish connection to Jerusalem that must be respected and stated that the current conflict is not a religious war. Nevertheless, speakers made clear that Jews only have religious rights in the city, not national rights (this was often expanded to include anywhere in the whole of Israel). While legitimate policy concerns were voiced, they were overshadowed by rhetoric that veered into historical falsehoods and calls for militarism and violence and, at times, tapped into antisemitic tropes.
Calls for use of physical force: Perhaps the most dangerous language espoused during Aqsa Week were the calls for Jerusalem and Israel to be “liberated” militarily or by other physical means. Such rhetoric plays into support for the violence Israelis have experienced, as thousands of Jewish and/or Israeli civilians have been killed from violent attacks since the conflict between early Zionists and Palestinians began in the early 20th century. Remarks included:
- March 6: Making a comparison to the Crusades, US-based anti-Israel journalist and editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle Ramzy Baroud expressed hope that there would come a day when armies would “storm in” to Jerusalem and overtake the State of Israel:
- “...maybe inshallah one of these days, the ummah [Muslim nation] will have that kind of courage and spirit and power and resources to do that. I'm not necessarily calling for armies to storm in now, but what I am saying, you cannot accept the fact that your relationship with Al-Aqsa is a relationship that has to go through an Israeli checkpoint.”
- March 9: US student activist Abdurrahman Sultan stated: “We need to learn from the past and I promise that just like the Muslims liberated Jerusalem from the tyranny of the crusaders, inshallah we continue fighting until we seek justice and we find it and even if we die before that justice is sought, we need to die trying, and we need to die spreading the word.”
- March 9: Executive Director of Majlis Ash-Shura-Islamic Leadership Council of New York Raja Abdulhaq expressed support for “all forms of resistance against the occupation.”
Comparisons to the Crusades/Israel as a “foreign entity” and “cancerous:” Multiple speakers employed inflammatory rhetoric comparing the existence of the State of Israel to the Christian Crusader fortresses in the 11th century. Such comparisons are baseless, as the State of Israel has been accepted for decades as a legitimate state by the international community, including the United Nations. Conversely, it is commonly accepted that the Crusaders’ actions were illegitimate. This rhetoric, including calling Israel a “foreign entity” and “cancerous,” goes well beyond accepted norms of critique and human rights and can play into harmful tropes.
- UK-based activist Sara El-Awaisi, introduced as affiliated with the UK’s Academy for Islamic Jerusalem Studies, was explicit in her comments during an event March 7 entitled “Aqsa and Jerusalem: The Judaization Project,” referring to Israel as “this body that was implanted as a cancerous body really [sic] within the Arab region and the Muslim world.” Later, she expanded:
- “[Israel] is there to serve a purpose. And the purpose, the general purpose is really, this idea to weaken the Muslim ummah [Islamic nation]. And so how long since the start of having this foreign body in this region - this foreign body being Israel in this region - this region has been in absolute conflict since.”
- March 9: Raja Abdulhaq stated: “there's a foreign entity that was created on a native land…erasing an identity of a land in order for another for more settlers to come in from Europe and to take over that land.”
- March 10: Discussing Saladin’s conquering of Jerusalem from the Crusaders, American Muslims for Palestine’s Taher Herzallah espoused militant rhetoric: “The parallels between then and now are unbelievably similar, and albeit we may not have a single individual who may rise to the occasion to defeat Zionism and end the occupation, we hope that Muslims around the world seek this opportunity during this, particularly this Aqsa Week…”
- March 8: Friends of Al-Aqsa founder Ismail Patel stated: “The Crusaders were not a great army, there were only a few hundred people, and they managed to take over Jerusalem because in those days they were only city-states. Each was fighting with the other; in fact, many were making deals with the Crusaders themselves. Many would draw parallels today.”
Denial of Jewish history and conspiracy theories: Repeatedly, speakers dismissed the existence of an ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in the vicinity of the Al-Aqsa mosque and claimed that Israel has plans to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and re-build a Jewish Temple in its place. While it is accurate that a handful of Israeli Jewish extremists have been charged (and in some cases found guilty) by the Israeli government of advocating these actions, such dangerous and outrageous ideas are limited to only the most extremist elements in Israeli society. No Israeli government has ever supported or even considered such a plan.
The denial of the existence of an ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is a phenomenon that dates back decades. It has no basis in archaeological evidence and is often wielded to further antisemitic tropes against a Jewish connection to Jerusalem.
- During “Aqsa and Jerusalem: The Judaization Project” March 7, UK activist Sara El-Awaisi stated “the problem here is when you have the Israeli narrative of saying that this is where the temple was, even though there is no archeological or historical evidence to support this, and they're wanting to demolish this so that they can build there a Jewish temple.” She later remarked:
- “We need to be aware that ultimately the Judaization of, uh, Al Aqsa mosque or the city, the ultimate aim really is the destruction of a Al Aqsa mosque. So this is really their aim to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque and to build a Jewish temple on its place. So they have taken many measures to ensure that this will happen.”
- March 9: At an event on US and UK policy on Jerusalem, AMP Executive Director Osama Abuirshaid referred to an “alleged” Temple as he criticized a peace proposal in which he claimed Israel would: “...continue to dig and we [Israel] look for the alleged temple.”
- March 6: During the opening event for Aqsa Week, Gazan-based Palestinian journalist Wafa Aludaini stated: “We know that the Israelis are trying to hide what they are doing inside al Aqsa mosque. They are trying to distract the Palestinians on something else in order to implement their plans inside the al Aqsa mosque. Like that they are doing excavation, they just destroy stuff and you know...whenever they just implement their plan and then build their Temple Mount and destroy al Aqsa mosque, nobody will act because nobody knows anything about what is happening there at Al-Aqsa mosque.”
- March 12: At the final event of the week, commenting on the Al-Aqsa mosque, Imam Suliman Gani of London stated that Israelis “are actively engaging in its demolish, [sic] in its destruction. There is the campaign to rebuild a third temple…”