By Rabbi Yeshaia Charles Familant
An aerial photograph of one of the holiest sites for Jews and Muslims was thrust before David Friedman, the current US ambassador to Israel, while a photograph was taken during his visit to Bnei Brak (one of the holiest towns of the haredim – ultra-religious Jews). This photograph went viral. Why? Because on this site, known to Muslims as Al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf, sits the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock (believed to be from where the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven started) whose golden globe I have often seen shining in the sun during my visits to Jerusalem.
Yes, but why did the photograph cause so much excitement – not just excitement, but outrage by Muslims? In the doctored photo both the mosque and the Dome had been expunged and supplanted by a replica of the ancient Temple of Solomon (reputed to have been built upon that site)! Removing the Islamic holy sites is a long-term goal of far-right Israeli Jewish extremists who want to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem.
Before Friedman’s appointment as ambassador to Israel, his advocacy for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was known both to the president and the senators. He has dismissed the two-state solution – the vision of an end to the conflict in which Israel and a future Palestine live side-by-side within agreed borders – still the ostensible position of the US government.
He is also the president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which raises millions of dollars each year for a settlement close to the Palestinian city of Ramallah – currently serving as the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Bet El is the self-professed “pioneer settlement” – established about forty years ago – of the ever expanding illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. He has clashed with American Jewish progressive groups, notably dubbing liberals “worse than kapos,” a reference to Jewish collaborators who worked as guards in Nazi prison camps.
And yet Ambassador Friedman pleads ignorance in knowing what he was looking at when the photo was put before him. Really, Mr. Friedman?