For the first time in recent memory, two Israeli lawmakers are planning to attend the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump.
MKs Yehudah Glick and Sharren Haskel, both from the ruling center-right Likud party, have confirmed their participation at Friday’s ceremony in Washington, DC.
A delegation from the Yesha Council settlers’ umbrella group is also planning to attend the event.
Glick grew up in Brooklyn and immigrated to Israel with his family when he was eight. He had to renounce his US citizenship when he entered the Knesset in May 2016.
Glick told The Times of Israel that he was invited by HaYovel, an organization that brings Christian volunteers to Israel to help local farmers. “Me going has nothing to do with my political opinions. I’m going there as someone active in dialogue between American Christians and Israel,” he said. “I won’t participate in any political events.”
During the election campaign he was critical of both Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, Glick continued. “I try to be as much as I can to the point. I am not going to Washington to show support for Trump’s candidacy. But as far as I know the elections are over, and he’s been elected president.”
Had he been invited to the inauguration of Barack Obama he would also gladly accepted, he added. The US is Israel’s most important ally and “there’s no reason in the world” why he shouldn’t accept an invitation to attend the new president’s inauguration, Glick said.
Haskel was born in Toronto, Canada, and immigrated to Israel with her parents a year later.
The Yesha Council is sending a delegation of top leaders and activists, including its chief foreign envoy Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi; Yossi Dagan, the head of Samaria Regional Council; and Benny Kashriel, the mayor of Ma’ale Adumim. Revivi, Dagan and Kashriel are all longtime Likud members.
Word on the Israeli participants comes as several US Democratic congressmen have said they will stay away from the ceremony, a rare move underscoring deep misgivings over the unorthodox Trump in large swaths of America. The lawmakers have cited Trump’s criticism of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights leader, for the boycott.
The attendance of Israeli political figures at the swearing-in ceremony of an American president is unprecedented, according to one expert.
“I don’t recall any participation of Israeli officials at an inauguration during the entire history of the State of Israel,” said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center for Strategic Studies.
“In this particular case, it seems that invitations have been extended to particular sectors of Israeli society, which is even more unusual.”
The president-elect is considered a friend of Israel’s settlement movement. In 2003, he is said to have donated $10,000 to the West Bank city of Beit El, and several close advisers have long had close ties with the settlements, including David Friedman, his pick for US ambassador to Israel.
Gilboa took issue with the fact that both lawmakers planning to attend are from the Likud party.
“It would have been better to have representatives from other parties in the Knesset as well,” he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “Israel has to be very careful about bipartisanship.”
There is a huge and constantly widening gap between the Israeli government and the Democratic party, and Jerusalem should make efforts to mend fences with the Democrats, Gilboa said. “Sending a partisan delegation to such an event is not a good idea. It does nothing to help fix the relations.”
The Yesha Council said it received invitations from “numerous” people, including US Congress members and top officials of the incoming administration. The invited Yesha functionaries have also been asked to several parties surrounding the inauguration which the new president is expected to attend, according to a spokesperson for the group.
The settlements leaders see their planned participation in Trump’s inauguration as an indication of “the warm relations that they have built with the incoming administration,” according to a statement.
“Our invitation to attend the Trump inauguration is a clear indication that the new administration understands the importance and relevance of the Yesha Council,” Revivi said. His group represents “a large and powerful segment of Israeli society and we look forward to building a better future for our children and grandchildren together with our new friends in the White House.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not attending the inauguration. Channel 10 reported Monday that he plans on meeting Trump at the White House early next month.