US ambassador to Israel David Friedman has faced criticism for posing next to a doctored aerial image of Jerusalem showing the Third Jewish Temple replacing al-Aqsa mosque.
The photo was taken on Tuesday during a visit by Friedman to the Israeli city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv organised by Achiya, an NGO that aids students with learning disabilities.
Achiya apologised for the poster, calling it a “cheap political act” by a staff member.
The US embassy in Israel, which moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last week, also said Friedman was not aware of the poster when he was photographed.
“The US policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Ambassador 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.
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) May 22, 2018
People took to social media to criticise the doctored image, saying it was an illicit endorsment by the US for ongoing calls by Israeli far-right groups to destroy al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock to make space for the Third Jewish Temple.
For Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif, hosts Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
“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 Gazan Mohamed Nashwan on Twitter.
Friedman, a former lawyer for the Trump Organisation, supports the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. He has repeatedly made statements in favour of Israel.
In a column published by Fox News on Sunday, Friedman accused US “liberal media” of siding with Hamas to undermine the “beautiful and uplifting event” of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
The move was condemned internationally and rejected by the UN General Assembly for violating the status of Jerusalem.
Commenting on the death of more than 100 unarmed Palestinian protesters who were shot by Israeli forces in Gaza, Friedman said Hamas was solely to blame.
“Some 60 Gazans, the overwhelming majority of whom were known Hamas terrorists, lost their lives because Hamas turned them into a collective suicide bomb,” the ambassador wrote.
“They were neither heroes nor the peaceful protesters they were advertised to be.”