US Embassy: Image of Jewish Temple ‘thrust in front’ of envoy Friedman for photo
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Friedman: 'I was more mortified than any Palestinian'

US Embassy: Image of Jewish Temple ‘thrust in front’ of envoy Friedman for photo

US ambassador photographed with poster of Temple Mount, without Dome of the Rock; ultra-Orthodox non-profit apologizes for employee’s ‘cheap political act’

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is pictured next to a man holding a poster of the Jewish Temple replacing the Muslim Dome on the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, at an event for the Achiya educational nonprofit in Bnei Brak, May 22, 2018. (Courtesy: Kikar HaShabbat)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is pictured next to a man holding a poster of the Jewish Temple replacing the Muslim Dome on the Rock on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, at an event for the Achiya educational nonprofit in Bnei Brak, May 22, 2018. (Courtesy: Kikar HaShabbat)

The US Embassy in Jerusalem on Tuesday said a doctored aerial image of Jerusalem, in which a major Muslim shrine was replaced by a depiction of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount compound, was unknowingly “thrust in front of” US Ambassador David Friedman for a photograph during a visit to a non-profit.

Friedman said Wednesday he was horrified to see the photograph. “I was more mortified than any Palestinian,” he said, restating the US commitment to the status quo at the Temple Mount.

Friedman was visiting the Bnei Brak headquarters of the Achiya organization — an ultra-Orthodox non-profit that works to empower and integrate children with learning disabilities and is supported by the US embassy — when a member of the group handed him a large poster showing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but with a Jewish Temple standing in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine at the site. The Al-Aqsa Mosque was in the photo.

“Ambassador Friedman was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken,” the US embassy in Jerusalem said in a statement. “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.”

The event was first reported by the ultra-Orthodox website Kikar HaShabat. The website identified those who presented the poster as managers of Achiya, although the NGO said later the act wasn’t sanctioned by the group.

The US Embassy in Israel, according to Hebrew-language reports, demanded an apology from Achiya “for allowing one of its employees to present this controversial image to the ambassador during his visit.”

The Temple Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and is considered Islam’s third-holiest site. It is the holiest place in Judaism, revered by Jews as the location of the biblical Jewish temples.

Under the present arrangement instituted by Israel after it captured Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 war, the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, remains under Jordan’s religious custodianship. Jews are allowed to visit the compound but are barred from religious worship or prayer. The sensitive site has been at the heart of several upticks in Palestinian violence in recent years, over claims Israel was seeking to change the arrangements at the site. Israel denies any such plans.

The Achiya organization subsequently apologized “from the bottom of our heart” for the incident, saying the “cheap political act” of an employee “overshadowed” Friedman’s attempt to highlight its good work.

“The management of Achiya wishes to apologize to the American Ambassador in Israel, Mr. David Friedman, and to the US Embassy in Israel,” it said in a statement. “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,” it 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.”

Muslim worshippers perform Friday noon prayer near the Dome of the Rock shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City’s al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount, December 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

“We want again to thank the ambassador for his time and apologize from the bottom of our heart for this unnecessary incident.”

Friedman last week oversaw the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In the past, Friedman had made remarks that were rebuffed by Washington as not reflecting official policy.

Last September, he told Israel’s Walla news site he thought “the settlements are part of Israel.” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert later told reporters that his comments marked no shift in the US position.

The Associated Press reported last month that Friedman has been seeking to adopt the Israeli name for the West Bank, Judea, and Samaria, in his official remarks and statements, but has so far been prevented from doing so by the Trump administration. Last December, it was reported that Friedman had asked the State Department to stop calling the West Bank “occupied.”

Before his confirmation to the diplomatic role, Friedman was a staunch supporter of settlements and a columnist for right-wing Israeli publications.

Over the weekend, Friedman also said evangelical Christians “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community.”

On Sunday, the US ambassador accused the “liberal media” of “glorifying” Hamas terrorists in its coverage of last week’s US embassy move and concurrent Gaza riots in order to denigrate US President Donald Trump, and appeared to accuse the press of having “blood on its hands” for allowing Hamas to garner front page real estate.

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