US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman was posing for a photo on Tuesday when someone thrust a poster of the Temple Mount in his hands without the mosques but with the Jewish Temple.
Friedman was visiting the Bnei Brak headquarters of Achiya, a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) charity organization supported by the US embassy that works to provide educational and developmental intervention for children with learning difficulties. At the end of the visit, the head of the organization presented Friedman with a large poster featuring an aerial photo of Jerusalem. The photo had been digitally altered, removing the images of the Islamic structures that currently dominate the site. In their stead was a computer generated image of the Jewish Temple that once stood at the site.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem issued a statement denying that the photo was an intentional result of Friedman’s actions or a reflection of official US policy.
“Ambassador Friedman was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken,” the statement read. “He was deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy. The US policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
According to reports in Israeli media, the US Embassy requested an apology from Achiya “for allowing one of its employees to present this controversial image to the ambassador during his visit.”
The apology was immediately forthcoming.
“The management of Achiya wishes to apologize to the American Ambassador in Israel, Mr. David Friedman, and to the US Embassy in Israel,” the statement read. “An employee from the Achiya organization handed the ambassador a poster that was not approved by Achiya, the embassy, or the ambassador.”
“We wish to thank Ambassador David Friedman and the embassy staff for the professionalism and generosity they showed in the visit to Achiya to highlight the important work we do to change lives for the better,” the statement added. “To our regret, the event was overshadowed by a cheap political act. The employee responsible for that has been identified and has apologized, and we will deal with the issue internally in the organization.”
“We want again to thank the ambassador for his time and apologize from the bottom of our heart for this unnecessary incident”, the statement concluded.
Reactions from the Arab world were immediate as well. Arab Member of Knesset, Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) tweeted, “And this madman wants to bring peace. Good thing you didn’t put the embassy there!”
Al Jazeera News published an article on the incident, citing several negative comments culled from Arab language social media referring to Friedman as “fanatical” and “unbelievably stupid and provocative.”
“They will destroy the holy Haram al-Sharif, if [US President Donald] Trump orders them too,” wrote Ali Askar, a social media user on Twitter.
“Until when will these unacceptable actions by the US slide by without a proper reaction from Arab leaders,” wrote Gaza resident Mohamed Nashwan on Twitter.
The Temple Mount is the site of both the First Temple, built by King Solomon and destroyed in 587 BCE, as well as the Second Temple, built in 537 BCE and destroyed in 70 CE. The silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque and golden Dome of the Rock dominate the site, and non-Muslims are currently prohibited from entering or praying anywhere on the mountaintop.