US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was photographed Tuesday being presented with a wide-format picture of Jerusalem during his visit to the Israeli city of Bnei Brak. The picture, however, had been modified: the al-Haram ash-Sharif compound, which today includes two of Islam's holiest mosques, including Jerusalem's trademark Dome of the Rock, has been replaced with a temple of an entirely different design.
What's missing in this photo of Jerusalem that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is looking at? The Dome of the Rock & Al-Aqsa Mosque. Removing the Islamic holy sites is a long-term goal of far-right Israeli Jewish extremists who want to erase Palestinians from Jerusalem. pic.twitter.com/Y0AnKbAm2B— The IMEU (@theIMEU) 22 мая 2018 г.
The temple on the picture turned out to be a computer model of the Third Temple, a Jewish sanctuary prophesied to be constructed on a spot where the two Biblical Temples once stood. Construction of the Third Temple is a centuries-long desire expressed in many Jewish prayers.
The photo immediately sparked fierce criticism from the Muslim world, with Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), saying Friedman expressed "rude and hypocritical behavior," according to PNN, a group of independent Palestinian journalists.
According to PNN, Erekat noted that the smile of the US ambassador on the photo "shows approval to what the arrogant Israelis are planning."
Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi from the Israeli Arab-dominated political alliance Joint List responded to the photo, saying: "And this madman wants to bring peace — good thing you didn't put the embassy there," Haaretz reports.
However, after a short while, the US embassy issued a statement in which it distanced itself from the picture and the people behind it.
According to the statement, Friedman "was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken. He was deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy."
The envoy's office demanded an apology from Achiya, the organization that pulled off the demarche.
"The US policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount," the statement said.
Achiya reacted to the embassy's statement swiftly, saying that the man who presented the picture acted on his own behalf.
"We wish to thank the ambassador Mr. David Friedman and the staff members for their professionalism and courtesy… regretfully the entire event was marred by a cheap political act, the responsible staff member was identified and apologizes and we will deal with the matter internally in the organization," Achiya said in its statement.
Friedman already had a record of controversy before this event. A supporter of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, he has also called on the US State Department to stop calling the West Bank "Israeli-occupied territory."
In September 2017, the US State Department had to publicly distance itself from Friedman's remarks, with spokesperson Heather Nauert saying, "Our position on that hasn't changed. The comment does not represent a shift in US policy."
If Friedman intended to question the status of the West Bank, such an intention does not represent official American policy, Nauert explained at the time.