David Friedman is seen with a controversial photo illustration depicting an artist's impression of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem in place of one of Islam's holiest sites, as seen on the Israeli news website Kikar Hashabat.
Jerusalem CNN  — 

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was embroiled in controversy Tuesday after being photographed receiving an aerial image of Jerusalem that was edited to include an artist’s impression of a Third Temple, instead of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

The photo – showing Amb. Friedman receiving the poster-sized image – was taken during a tour of Bnei Brak, an ultra-religious Jewish area near Tel Aviv, held by the Achiya organization, a non-profit group that provides support for children with learning disabilities.

The incident forced the US Embassy in Jerusalem to issue a swift response, insisting Amb. Friedman was “not aware of the image that was 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. The US policy is absolutely clear: We support the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” the statement added.

Yehuda Mandelovich, a spokesman for Achiya, offered an apology on behalf of his organization and called the incident a “cheap political stunt.”

“We apologize to Ambassador Friedman and the US Embassy,” he said in a statement.

“One of our staffers presented a picture to the Ambassador that was not cleared or approved by our organization or the embassy and Ambassador‎.

“The Ambassador and his team were professional and generous with their time in visiting us to highlight the important life changing work we do.

“Unfortunately, the entire experience has been clouded by a cheap political stunt. The employee responsible has been identified, has offered his apologies and we will handle the rest of this matter internally. We would like to once again thank the Ambassador for his time and sincerely apologize for this avoidable incident.”

Jerusalem remains one of the most divisive issues within the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, is home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Asqa Mosque, considered Islam’s third-holiest site. It is also the holiest place in Judaism because it is the ancient site of the First and Second Jewish Temples.

According to the current arrangement that came into being after Israel captured Jerusalem’s Old City in 1967, Haram al-Sharif remains under the control of the Waqf, the Jordanian religious authority.

Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but are prohibited from praying there. Some on the religious-nationalist right want to see a new Third Temple built on the site.

Amb. Friedman has previously courted controversy for his remarks on settlements. Earlier this week, he accused the “liberal media” of “glorifying” Hamas terrorists during its coverage of last week’s US Embassy move to Jerusalem and the protests in Gaza.

CNN’s Michael Schwartz reported from Jerusalem. James Masters wrote from London.