Netanyahu Decides to Speak at Independence Day Ceremony Despite Knesset Speaker’s Ultimatum

Yuli Edelstein thinks letting the prime minister give a speech will be divisive. Netanyahu plans to do it anyway

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset, January 12, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Thursday that he will deliver a speech at the torch-lighting ceremony that kicks off Israel’s 70th Independence Day, despite the Knesset speaker’s opposition and threat to boycott the event in this case.

Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of Israel’s legislative body, said last week that he may skip the event if the prime minister will speak at it. In previous years, prerecorded messages from Netanyahu were played at the torch-lighting ceremony. Edelstein argued that Culture Minister Miri Regev’s decision to invite Netanyahu to speak would lead to politicization of the traditional event. “The ceremony was never the domain of one tribe or another in Israeli society,” he wrote in a letter to fellow lawmakers.

Because Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is set to attend the ceremony, Netanyahu is obligated to be present, as he is at any occasion when Israel welcomes a foreign head of state. However, he is not required to make any public remarks.

The last time Netanyahu participated in the torch-lighting ceremony was in 1998, when he was also prime minister.

Last week saw public disagreements on the issue between Edelstein and Regev, both member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. Edelstein took to 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.”