- Thomson Reuters
- David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, was photographed holding an image that seemed to erase the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic holy site.
- In trying to clean up the political fallout, the US embassy in Jerusalem tweeted that it “supports the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
- The status quo is that non-Muslims are consistently denied the ability to pray or express religious devotion.
David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, was photographed Tuesday smiling and holding a picture of Jerusalem that had one politically explosive tweak: the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic holy site, had been replaced by a mock-up of what a third Jewish temple might look like.
The political fallout came quickly. The explanations and apologies came soon after. Haaretz reported that Achiya, the non profit organization with which Friedman had been touring the city of Bnei Brak, “issued an apology to Friedman and the embassy, saying a staff member on its behalf presented the picture to the ambassador, who was unaware of its content.”
Just as quickly, the embassy dispelled the notion that the picture of Friedman might be a meaningful arbiter of future US policy. It tweeted that “Ambassador Friedman was not aware of the image thrust in front of him when the photo was taken. He was deeply disappointed that anyone would take advantage of his visit to Bnei Brak to create controversy.”
US Ambassador Friedman poses with photo of Temple Mount in which Jewish Third Temple is superimposed on Muslim Holy Mosque. Cause what’s a holy jihad between friends. Believe it or not.https://t.co/I5tWxlzrO2 pic.twitter.com/fPZPqnx3rx
— Chemi Shalev (@ChemiShalev) May 22, 2018
That’s all well and good. And considering the recent goings on at the Israel-Gaza border, it is wise of the embassy to take the potential fallout of this photo op seriously and respond in kind. But then it tweeted again: “The US policy is absolutely clear: we support the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.”
Perhaps timing got in the way. But if the US won’t reconsider the status quo, it definitely should not be issuing statements in support of it.
The status quo at the Temple Mount is one that prohibits both Christians and Jews from praying or even doing anything that resembles praying there. Whispering, moving your lips, or bowing your head are all actions that can get a non-Muslim escorted from the holy site.
In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israeli troops gained control of East Jerusalem. Mordechai Gur, an Israeli politician and military hero who was then the commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade, declared “the Temple Mount is in our hands.”
Because the Jordanians forbid Jews from visiting their holiest site, it was the first time since Israel’s war of Independence that Jews were able to visit the Western Wall.
Though the Israelis kept control of the Western Wall, they soon relinquished control of the Temple Mount. Moshe Dayan, who was then Israel’s defense minister, decided it would be unwise for the Israelis to govern the holy sites of other religions.
He explained: “We have returned to the holiest of our places, never to be parted from them again. … We did not come to conquer the sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.”
But years later, the reality is that some religious rights are trampled upon. In their own country, Jews are forbidden from bowing their heads, moving their lips, singing, or speaking in any way that might be construed as prayer at what they universally consider their holiest site. The sad truth is that the Israeli government does not challenge the status quo.
That may be an unfortunate political reality, but for two countries concerned with religious freedom, it’s also a travesty. There’s no need for the US government to be championing a change here, but they should refrain from supporting or celebrating a status quo that would never pass muster in their own country.