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Ben Shapiro performs Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque

American right-wing media personality prayed at the mosque in violation of long-standing status quo forbidding Jewish worship
Ben Shapiro is seen on the set of "Candace" on 28 April 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee (AFP)

American conservative political commentator and editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro, visited Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday and performed Talmudic rituals in its courtyard, a move often banned by Israeli forces.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of Islam's holiest sites and sits in occupied East Jerusalem, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.

Shapiro has been in Israel since last week for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and visited the holy site with his father to perform afternoon prayers.

"You can't come to Israel and not visit the Temple Mount," Shapiro said.

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Last year, the conservative media personality criticised a report by the Associated Press and said: "Muslims visit and pray on the Temple Mount every single day; the Temple Mount is sovereign Israeli territory. Jews are the only people restricted in any way. But it's somehow provocative for Jews to visit and pray."

Spanning 14 hectares, the mosque includes the golden-domed Dome of the Rock, arguably one of Jerusalem's most recognisable landmarks, as well as the ancient al-Qibli Mosque, both of which are considered sacred.

In May, a Jerusalem Magistrate Court overturned a police restraining order against three Israeli far-right activists for praying at al-Aqsa Mosque in violation of a longstanding understanding between Israel and Jordan, which administers the affairs of the mosque.

As part of the delicate decades-old arrangement, non-Muslims are allowed to visit Al-Aqsa complex under the supervision of the Waqf, a joint Jordanian-Palestinian Islamic trust that manages the affairs of the mosque.

While Muslims are allowed to pray in the courtyards and prayer halls of the mosque, Jews are forbidden from praying there. But Israeli ultra-nationalists, often settlers, occasionally enter the area and attempt to pray there. They are stopped from doing so by representatives of the Islamic Waqf organisation that administers the site, and by the police.

In 2019, Uri Ariel, the Israeli agriculture minister at the time who belonged to the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, made news when he entered the complex to pray. He was accompanied by a group of Israeli settlers and protected by armed police. 

Shapiro in Tel Aviv

On Wednesday, hundreds of people visited Shapiro as he spoke at the conservative conference in Tel Aviv - his first-ever public speech in Israel.

Most of the attendees were immigrants from the US, Haaretz reported. Some members of the audience could be seen wearing MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats associated with Donald Trump's presidency in the US.

The event was publicised by the Tel Aviv International Salon, a forum that invites speakers to give lectures in English and is geared towards young adults who have immigrated from English-speaking countries.

"America has one major thing to learn from Israel: that a nation-state must have, at its heart, a nation," he said in his speech.

"What that really means is that America has to learn from Israel the necessity of common history, common culture, and common destiny."

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