POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 21, 2013
JERUSALEM » Snippets of a 2011 video broadcast on Israeli television over the weekend showed an American-born Israeli who is now a candidate on the rightist Jewish Home ticket in Tuesday's elections contemplating how "incredible" it would be if a landmark Muslim shrine were blown up, making way for a new Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
The video clip stirred up a storm in the Israeli news media and focused attention on some of the lesser-known members of the Jewish Home, which has become the only dynamic force in an otherwise lethargic campaign. Projected to win 12 to 16 seats in Parliament, based on recent polls, the party is also a likely candidate to join the governing coalition.
During a November 2011 lecture about biblical prophecies at the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Fla., Jeremy Gimpel, who is now a Jewish Home candidate, told the audience: "Imagine today if the dome, the Golden 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? I mean, none of you would be here, you'd all be like, I'm going to Israel, right? No one would be here. It would be incredible!"
Under the leadership of Naftali Bennett, a former elite army commando and high-tech entrepreneur, Jewish Home has tried to appeal to as broad a cross section of Israelis as possible, presenting itself as moderate and friendly to secular Israelis despite its hawkish position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its emphasis on Jewish heritage and education. Its detractors have been trying to highlight the party's links to some radical elements of the settlement movement in the West Bank.
Gimpel, 32, a cleanshaven ordained rabbi and pro-Israel advocate abroad, placed 14th on the Jewish Home list. As a native speaker of English who moved to Israel with his parents from Atlanta when he was 11, he has worked mainly on the party's outreach to English-speaking immigrants and was largely unknown to Israelis — until now.
In an exclusive interview with Israel's Channel 2 news on Sunday, Gimpel, who lives in a settlement in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, said that he was not a politician at the time of his 2011 lecture, that he simply gave a Bible lesson on the Book of Ezra and that his remarks were intended as a "parody of the fanatics" who call for blowing up the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem.
"Obviously I oppose such a thing," he said. "It was meant as a joke."
A spokesman for the Jewish Home did not return calls seeking comment.