US envoy cancels appearance at memorial for slain American at West Bank outpost

David Friedman pulls out of ceremony for murdered American teen Ezra Schwartz apparently after media report specifying location

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

18-year-old Ezra Schwartz from Massachusetts, killed during a terrorist attack at the Gush Etzion Junction, November 19, 2015. (Courtesy)
18-year-old Ezra Schwartz from Massachusetts, killed during a terrorist attack at the Gush Etzion Junction, November 19, 2015. (Courtesy)

US Ambassador David Friedman has cancelled an appearance at a memorial ceremony for slain American teen Ezra Schwartz in the wake of a media report that it would be taking place at an illegal West Bank outpost.

Friedman had accepted an invitation from the Orot Yehuda Yeshiva in the city of Efrat, which is organizing the ceremony on Tuesday at the Oz V’Gaon nature preserve in the Gush Etzion bloc.

Schwartz, 18, an American yeshiva student from Sharon, Massachusetts, was shot by a Palestinian terrorist in November 2015 while on his way to help clear the new camping grounds at Oz V’Gaon as a volunteer.

A spokesman for Orot Yehuda told The Times of Israel that Friedman’s office did not provide a reason for the cancellation, but that it came less than 24 hours after a report in the Israel Hayom daily newspaper which cited the ceremony’s planned location.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the 16th anniversary memorial ceremony for the victims of 9/11 attacks in a Memorial monument in Jerusalem Hills on September 11 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

“We are very sorry that the Ambassador won’t be joining us to memorialize an American citizen,” said Yeshiva head Rabbi Eliyahu Eidelberg.

He insisted that ceremony was to be held at what was a nature reserve, not an outpost.

Eidelberg added that the ambassador’s office had “dropped several hints” that the reason for his decision to drop out of the event was due to its location, even though they did not say so explicitly.

US Embassy spokesman Valerie O’Brien said her office could not comment on the ambassador’s schedule.

Oz V’Gaon was founded weeks after the June 12, 2014, disappearance of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer. The three teens had inadvertently hitched a ride from a bus stop at the Alon Shvut Junction in Gush Etzion with terrorists from a Hamas cell. Their fate was unknown for almost three weeks until their bodies were found and it emerged that they had been murdered mere hours after the kidnapping.

Three families now live in caravans at Oz V’Gaon, which was a neglected forest filled with garbage before it was converted into a nature reserve by the Women in Green group.

It is one of roughly 100 outposts built without the authorization of the government and against Israeli law.

Unlike previous US envoys, Friedman was known to be a strong supporter of Israeli settlements before he took office and has said recently that settlements “are part of Israel.”

A walkway at the entrance to the Oz VeGaon outpost in Gush Etziyon seen on June 28, 2016 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Friedman  was a controversial pick for ambassador, largely due to his views on the settlements and derogatory comments he made about left-wing Jewish groups for which he subsequently apologized. Friedman was a major donor to the settlement of Beit El and had said that Israel can annex the West Bank and retain its Jewish character.

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