The feud between Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev over the format of the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony is about preserving one of the few things left that unites Israelis, Edelstein said on Monday.
“Many citizens feel distressed in recent days because of the dispute around the celebrations of 70 years of the State of Israel,” Edelstein said at the launch – in honor of Independence Day – of the Democracy Pavilion, a joint project of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank and the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Edelstein added: “It’s important to me to clarify that it is not a personal dispute or a matter of honor. This is an attempt to preserve what unites us and defines us.”
The Knesset Speaker’s remarks came a day after he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to an agreement by which the premier will light a torch at the Independence Day opening event on Mount Herzl and will only make brief remarks.
The agreement was meant to bring an end to Edelstein and Regev’s row. Edelstein sought to keep to the traditional format for the ceremony, by which only the Knesset speaker, as the head of a body meant to represent all Israelis, gives an address. Regev wanted Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Edelstein and a senior foreign attendee to speak. The dispute had gone on for several months, and intensified in the last two weeks when Edelstein said he and the Knesset Guard, who march during the ceremony, would withdraw if the format was changed.
“There are no winners and losers here, there is a desire to preserve this important ceremony, which is still our common denominator and there are not many such things,” Edelstein said Monday.
In the Democracy Pavilion, where visitors can sign a copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Edelstein was the first signatory. He said the document “reminds us that we cannot separate our past, present and future... that it is more important that we have shared goals and a shared path than to reach those goals.”
“This initiative wants to bring us back to a spirit of us, of togetherness, that was on [Rothschild] Boulevard in Tel Aviv 70 years ago,” where the nation’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared Israel’s independence and people broke out dancing in the streets, Edelstein said. “Will that spirit continue to exist? It depends only on us.”
The Democracy Pavilion also includes an audio-visual presentation with an overview of important events in Israeli democracy from the establishment of the state until today. The pavilion is made up of overlapping arches symbolizing the diversity of Israeli society, and features quotes from the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel that express the values Israel was built upon as a democracy and a Jewish state.