Knesset Speaker Threatens Boycott of Independence Day Ceremony if Netanyahu Speaks

Yuli Edelstein decries proposal that the prime minister will address the traditional torch-lighting ceremony, saying it would be an unacceptable politicization of the public event

Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein stands at a podium at a Likud party conference.
Meged Gozani

The speaker of Israel's Knesset said Wednesday that lawmakers might refuse to participate in the traditional torch-lighting ceremony on Israel's Independence Day, expressing discontent with a proposal by Culture Minister Miri Regev to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at the event.

 “The chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, Miri Regev has again raised in recent days the proposal to significantly alter the traditional torch-lighting ceremony on Mt. Herzl,” Yuli Edelstein wrote in a letter to Knesset employees. . He warned that such a move would undercut the most important public event of the year. “Should the Knesset not be the sole representative of the people in Israel at the ceremony as it is every year, I regret, the Knesset and its people will not be able to take part," Edelstein wrote.

“The ceremony was never the domain of one tribe or another in Israeli society,” he wrote. “It is so beloved precisely because it shows sometimes what we can’t see in the heat of the moment: that our society is one human tapestry whose tremendous achievements stem from the spirit of unity that flows from it. Therefore, it is precisely the Knesset, in which all Israelis’ representatives gather, representing all sectors, ethnicities and varieties of Israeli society, that has traditionally led this special ceremony, with unity, respect and dignity. I have no doubt that if its national character is erased, then the flame will jump off the torches and ignite the divisions between us, which cry out for a respite. We cannot lend a hand to this.”

 The letter followed public exchanges between Edelstein and Regev, both member of Likud, about the disagreement. On Tuesday, Edelstein used Twitter to express disappointment with Regev's proposal. . “I am sorry that the culture minister is trying to damage, for the first time in the state’s history, a traditional, beautiful and value-laden ceremony, which is the pure and beautiful expression of the people of Israel and the nature of being Israeli," he wrote.

Regev hit back. “Why does it bother the Knesset speaker that the president and prime minister of Israel should speak at the 70th anniversary celebrations?” she retorted. “I don’t remember Yuli Edelstein buying Mount Herzl or acquiring the rights of the state torch-lighting ceremony.”

Lawmaker Merav Ben Ari of the Kulanu party backed Edelstein . “I agree with you,” she wrote to the Knesset speaker on Twitter.  “It there is a change in the ceremony rules, then I won’t come either.”

Zionist Union legislator Omer Bar Lev concurred: “Edelstein is holding up the pillars of public service and democracy, which are falling apart before our very eyes. This is truly a moment before Netanyahu crosses the point of no return – damaging the most celebratory and most Israeli ceremony because of self-importance and an exagerrated sense that he deserves everything.”