Ambassador Friedman held image showing Jewish Temple on holy Islamic site
Trump's Israel envoy incites Al Aqsa fury online
The US ambassador to Israel has sparked controversy online by receiving a doctored photograph depicting the Jewish Third Temple reconstructed on the site of Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.
Ambassador David Friedman was presented with the poster on Tuesday while touring Bnei Brak, the city east of Tel Aviv that serves as a centre to Ultra Orthodox Judaism.
Jerusalem is venerated as a holy site in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The Al Aqsa mosque compound is one of the holiest places in Islam. The Dome of the Rock, adjacent to the mosque, is one of the most recognisable monuments in the world.
Ambassador Friedman drew immediate criticism for the potentially incendiary incident following the publication online of the photo of him receiving the poster from an employee of an Ultra Orthodox Jewish NGO.
“Gasoline meet match,” one Twitter user posted.
“Just another provocation to humiliate the Palestinians and Christians as well,” another tweeted.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem later said Ambassador Friedman was not aware of what the photo depicted. “He was deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy,” the embassy tweeted.
“US policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo,” the embassy added, in reference to Jerusalem's place as a meeting point of history and faith.
The site is one of the most sensitive in the decades-long conflict. The Second Intifada, or uprising, by Palestinians began in 2000 after Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, surrounded by hundreds of riot police, visited Al Aqsa. His visit prompted riots by Palestinians.
The NGO which was leading Ambassador Friedman on the tour later apologised for the controversy. "One of our staffers presented a picture to the Ambassador that was not cleared or approved by our organisation or the embassy and Ambassador," the Jerusalem Post reported the education non-profit organisation Achiya as saying in a statement. "The Ambassador and his team were professional and generous with their time in visiting us to highlight the important life changing work we do. Unfortunately, the entire experience has been clouded by a cheap political stunt."
The incident took place in an atmosphere of heightened tension after President Donald Trump ordered the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
The embassy move took place the day before Nakba day on May 15, an occasion commemorated by Palestinians as the day of "catastrophe" and displacement. That move caused outrage among Palestinians, who believe that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state. Critics say the embassy switch has dealt a major blow to the peace process.
In the protests that followed the embassy move, Israeli soldiers killed 62 Palestinian protesters near the Gaza border fence, making May 14 the deadliest day since the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza.
Ambassador Friedman was formerly a lawyer for Mr Trump and was nominated by the president for the top diplomatic role in December 2016. His appointment was welcomed by conservative Jewish groups for his pro settlement views, but opposed by the liberal Jewish organisation J Street as “anathema” to the values that underlie the US-Israel relationship.