Jewish reporter Ben Tzion took a photo in ‘Al-Masjid an-Nabawi’ (Prophet’s Mosque) in Madinah, Saudi Arabia which is holy to Muslims and off limits to non-Muslims. It has caused controversy.
Ben is a Russian-born Jew who has been visiting many mosques in Muslim countries including Iran, Lebanon and Jordan.
His Facebook and instagram page includes photos of him inside the Prophet’s Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
“People of Saudi Arabia would stand with the Jewish nation side by side,” he said in a Facebook post with a photo of him performing the Saudi sword dance in a traditional ankle-length garment known as a “thobe”.
“Peace in the Middle East with respect and love towards each other,” he said in another post.
Non-Muslims are prohibited from visiting Mecca and advised not to enter parts of central Medina, where the mosque is located. But Mr Tzion said religious sites in Medina were open to the public.
Speaking to the Times of Israel, Mr Tzion – who became an Israeli citizen in 2014 – said visiting Muslim countries was “a hobby”, describing his message as “respect for other cultures and faiths”.
“No-one in the Arab world ever approached me with hostility,” he said.
“They tell me they love Israel and the Jewish people.”
He said he had acquired visas and entered all the holy sites legally, though not specifying which of his passports he travelled on.
Mr Tzion has also posted photos of his visits to the Iranian cities of Tehran and Qom. Israel and Iran are arch foes and citizens of the Jewish state are not allowed to visit Iran.
Despite his expressions of peace, Mr Tzion’s actions have been criticised. Reactions on Twitter were inevitable:
This Israeli Zionist, Ben Tzion, got to visit Masjid al-Nabawi. Something thousands of Palestinians won’t ever have the luxury of doing. pic.twitter.com/ubaD1Ce4X4
— Saudi America (@TheHouseOfSaud) November 21, 2017
The Arabic hashtag “A Zionist at the Prophet’s Mosque” has attracted more than 90,000 tweets.
“The scholars are in prisons and the Zionists are at the Prophet’s Mosque. It is a sad thing,” said one Twitter user in Arabic.
— zahid khan (@zahidhk3) November 22, 2017
According to the Times of Israel, the huge number of angry comments on Instagram led to the photo-sharing platform’s decision to suspend Mr Tzion’s account.