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U.S. ambassador to Israel receives a photo replacing Jerusalem’s holiest Muslim shrines with a Jewish temple

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman delivers a speech May 14 during the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
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In an image released Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman can be seen laughing and smiling — while standing next to an aerial view of Jerusalem that has been digitally altered to replace one of Islam’s holiest sites with a Jewish temple.

The photograph, which was first reported on by the ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabat, was taken while Friedman was in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak, known as a center of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. The ambassador had been touring the city with Achiya, a charity that works with disabled children.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the altered image was given to Friedman as a gift from an activist who works with Achiya.

It is not clear from the photograph whether Friedman noticed that the image had been digitally altered. A statement released Tuesday evening by the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said the ambassador was “not aware of the image thrust in front of him” before the photo and was “deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy.”

The al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sit on a hill in Jerusalem’s contested Old City, part of what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. It is the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. However, the same site is called the Temple Mount by Jews, and it is said to be the area where the first and second temples of Judaism stood. It is considered the holiest site in Judaism.

Currently, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there, and the issue has been contentious among both Jews and Muslims. Some Jewish activists have called for a third temple to be built upon the site.

Friedman was appointed as U.S. ambassador to Israel last year by President Trump. An Orthodox Jew with no political experience, he had previously served as Trump's bankruptcy lawyer. Since entering office, he has been repeatedly accused by the Israeli left and Palestinians of taking an overly pro-Israeli stance on a number of issues, such as overseeing the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli politician, dubbed Friedman a “madman” after the image spread. “Good thing you didn't put the embassy there!” he tweeted.

In a statement released to Israeli news organizations, Achiya apologized for the situation and said that the picture was presented to Friedman “without the approval of Achiya, the embassy, or the ambassador.”

“We would like to thank Ambassador David Friedman and the staff at the embassy for the professionalism and courtesy they have shown in visiting Achiya to shed light on the important work we do that is changing lives for the better,” the statement continued. “Unfortunately, the event was marred by a cheap political stunt.”

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