US embassy says David Friedman was not aware of details of poster and reaffirms commitment to status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem
US envoy to Israel David Friedman posed on Tuesday next to a poster of Jerusalem's skyline with a computer-generated rendition of the Third Jewish Temple placed over Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site.
Washington's embassy in Israel, which moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last week, said Friedman was not aware of the details 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.
The photo was taken 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.
Israeli right-wing activists have long called for destroying Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock to make space for the Third Jewish Temple.
Oren Hazan, a suspended Knesset member from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, has pledged to demolish Al-Aqsa.
“It would not be responsible at this point in time to tell you how we would do it (destroying Al-Aqsa), but I will say it clear and loud, when I have the opportunity to do it, I will,” he was quoted as saying by Mondoweiss in 2016.
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
Friedman, a former lawyer for the Trump Organization, supports the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank. He has repeatedly made provocative statements in favour of Israel, once even comparing liberal Jewish American group, J Street, to Nazi collaborators.
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 overwhelmingly by the UN General Assembly for violating the status of Jerusalem.
Commenting on the death of dozens of unarmed Palestinian protesters, including children and medics, who were shot by Israeli forces in Gaza, Friedman said Hamas is 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."