Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein threatened to pull himself and the entire Knesset staff from the 70th Independence Day festivities, as Culture Minister Miri Regev continued to push for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak instead of him at the kickoff event.
At a planning meeting on Tuesday, Edelstein clarified that if he and the Knesset do not present the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony on April 19 as Knesset speakers have done for the past 67 years, then they will not take part in the event at all.
The Knesset speaker is traditionally the highest-ranking official at the ceremony on Mount Herzl and therefore, gives an address. He is also involved in planning the event each year and the Knesset Guard marches during the event.
“This is an official state event, and the Knesset is the only one that represents all of the people of Israel, and that is the reason the Knesset marches there and the speaker speaks there,” Edelstein’s spokesman said.
Edelstein’s office said he made the announcement in advance so that there would be time to make alternative plans if necessary.
Edelstein and Culture Minister Miri Regev have been at loggerheads for several months over the ceremony.
In November, the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, led by Regev, decided to have Netanyahu give a speech at the annual Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony this year. Knesset representatives reported back to Edelstein’s office that he may lose that role, and sources close to the speaker made it known that he was not pleased with the development.
Netanyahu soon thereafter decided against giving the speech, with his office citing the high security needed for the prime minister to participate, which would make it harder for bereaved families to visit their loved ones’ graves at the Mount Herzl on Remembrance Day, in the hours preceding the ceremony.
Asked at a Yediot Aharonot conference on Sunday whether he and Netanyahu argued over the matter, Edelstein said: “You can say a lot of things about the prime minister, but he is not stupid.
“Someone gave him bad advice and offered him to speak at the torch-lighting ceremony,” the Knesset speaker said.
Edelstein did not mention Regev by name, adding: “The prime minister understood quickly, and I clarified the significance for him. The idea, I hope, has been buried once and for all.”
Regev soon released a statement slamming Edelstein: “It’s beyond my understanding. Why does it bother the Knesset speaker that at the celebration of 70 years of the state the president and prime minister speak?
“I don’t remember Edelstein buying Mount Herzl or obtaining the rights to the official torch-lighting ceremony,” Regev quipped.
A source in Edelstein’s office said that the matter has not soured the Knesset speaker’s close relationship with Netanyahu, and did not come up again in a conversation between them after the idea was first dropped.