WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he was “deeply disappointed” to have a digitally altered photo of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount thrust in front of him during a tour of a religious town.
The altered photo showed the mosques on the Temple Mount replaced by the Jewish Temple.
“Ambassador Friedman was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken,” the U.S. embassy said Tuesday on Twitter.
“He was deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy,” the embassy said. “The U.S. policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
Haram al-Sharif is the Muslim term for the site.
Friedman had been on a tour of Bnei Brak, a mostly haredi Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, when the photo was handed to him. A photo of Friedman smiling as a man hands him the picture quickly went viral.
According to a report in the haredi newspaper Kol HaZman, the man handing the photo to Friedman is a staffer with Achiya, a facility that trains educators in the haredi sector to work with learning disabled children. Kol Hazman quoted a statement from Achiya apologizing for the incident, saying that it had identified the staffer, who also apologized. “We will deal with the matter internally,” the statement said. Friedman had stopped at Achiya during his tour.
The Temple Mount is holy to Jews and Muslims and has been the scene of tensions in recent years. It houses two mosques and overlooks the Western Wall, an outer wall of the ancient Jewish Temple. Entry to the Temple Mount is controlled in some aspects by Israeli authorities and in others by a Muslim religious authority — the “status quo” the U.S. embassy statement referred to. An extremist stream in Israeli society advocates for actively preparing to replace the mosques with a rebuilt Temple.
Friedman was a central figure influencing President Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem earlier this month. Trump, Freidman and others have emphasized that the move, which has prompted outrage among Palestinians and others in the Muslim world, should have no bearing on the status quo of the holy sites.