Leaders of the West Bank settler movement received personal invitations from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to attend Vice President Mike Pence’s speech Monday in the Knesset, a spokesman for the organization that lobbies on their behalf confirmed.
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Arutz Sheva, the settler-aligned news website that first reported settler leaders would be attending the speech, said such an invitation was unprecedented.
David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel and former lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, is a staunch supporter of the settler movement. Before assuming his diplomatic position, he served as president of an organization that fundraises in the United States for the settlement of Beit El. Trump himself has donated to Beit El.
Both the chairman of the Yesha Council (the official lobbying group for the settler movement) and the director of its foreign desk received invitations to the Knesset event from the U.S. embassy, according to Yigal Dilmony, spokesman of the organization.
Hananel Dorani, chairman of the Yesha Council, also serves as mayor of the settlement of Kedumim. Oded Revivi, director of the foreign desk, also serves as mayor of the settlement of Efrat.
“In general, there is a much better atmosphere these days,” Dilmony said, referring to the far more sympathetic attitude of the current U.S. administration to West Bank settlement activity. Previous U.S. administrations had viewed the settlement movement as a major obstacle to peace.
Several other West Bank settlement leaders, Dilmony said, had also been invited to attend the Pence’s Knesset speech. Their invitations, however, had been extended by Knesset Speak Yuli Edelstein.
Leaders of the settlement movement had been invited to attend Trump’s inauguration in Washington last year, and several attended. The settler leaders, together with Republican Party activists in Israel, waged a heavily funded campaign to encourage Israelis with dual citizenship to vote for Trump.