The feud over who gets to speak at the Independence Day opening ceremony this month continued, with Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev accusing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of incitement in a press conference in Tel Aviv Sunday.
“Who does it bother that once in 70 years, the president, prime minister and Knesset speaker will speak at the torch-lighting ceremony?” Regev asked. “For God’s sake, how does that make it less statesmanlike? Why am I getting so much incitement and criticism?
“What is motivating the Knesset Speaker to incite against my decision?” Regev asked.
Regev called on Edelstein to take back his threat to have the Knesset pull out of its participation in the ceremony, and said he shouldn’t put his personal, political interest first.
In November, the Regev-led Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols decided to change the usual format of the ceremony on Mount Herzl, set for April 18 in the evening, and rather than have just the Knesset speaker speak, as usual, the president, prime minister and the top-ranking foreign dignitary will speak as well.
Edelstein voiced opposition to the plan, saying that the Knesset is at the forefront of the ceremony as the representative of all Israelis. The Prime Minister’s Office said at the time that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not go to the ceremony, because high security will make it difficult for bereaved families to visit their loved ones’ graves on Mount Herzl on Remembrance Day, in the hours preceding the transition to Independence Day. In recent years, Netanyahu has recorded a video greeting aired at the ceremony.
Last week, Edelstein said he and the Knesset Guard, which usually march during the ceremony, will not participate if the format is changed.
Edelstein received support from Col. David Rokni, the IDF commander of the torch-lighting ceremony for over 30 years, who retired in 2016.
“The ceremony belongs to the Knesset Speaker. Why bring in [other speakers]? It’s not OK, they should find other places,” Rokni said on Army Radio.
However, he also said that the ongoing feud does not dignify the sides involved.
Regev presented her decision to have more speakers at the ceremony as a money- saving one.
“I read all of the Comptroller’s Report on the 50th year ceremonies. There were two events, one after the other in Jerusalem. One with the Knesset speaker, and one with the president and prime minister. I said, why do we have to spend money on two ceremonies? There’ll be one big event,” she said.
Regev also pointed out that the ministerial committee approved her proposal, and said that Edelstein, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin are obligated by that decision.
“The torch-lighting ceremony was always the government’s and not the Knesset’s,” she said. “I’m responsible for everything about it, its success or – God forbid – its failure. I authorize the plan. No one else has a say. The Knesset is not a partner in the torch-lighting ceremony.”
Regev called the press conference to discuss the planned 70th Independence Day festivities, which will take place over 70 hours of celebrations beginning on April 18.
The Culture Minister put a special emphasis on holding celebrations in the periphery, so all-night beach parties, with well-known Israeli DJs, will be held up and down the Mediterranean coast in places like Nahariya and Ashkelon, but not Haifa or Tel Aviv. A closing concert that Saturday night, featuring dozens of Israeli musical artists, will be held in Beersheba.
After the torch-lighting event in April, there will be singing of the song “Hallelujah,” which put Israel in first place at the 1979 Eurovision contest, in 20 locations across Israel and 12 around the world including the Philadelphia, New Delhi, Lagos, Moscow and more.
There will also be an official 70th-anniversary folk dance that people can learn on the festivities’ website, should they feel the urge to dance in the streets, as well as a light parade in Tel Aviv, produced with the advice of Kathy Harris, who directed parades in Disney parks around the world.
Regev also presented the 70th-anniversary ad campaign, featuring Israelis shouting “yes!” to celebrate achievements like getting a patent for a startup, finishing the IDF officers’ course, or getting a new Torah for a synagogue.
Print ads will feature Israelis of different ages and backgrounds and their achievements, such as Yaakov Korchik, born in Hebron in 1925 and fought in the War of Independence, and 12-year-old Karin Al-Turi of Rahat, who is on Israel’s national youth tennis team.
“Yes, we have what to be proud of,” Regev said. “We are a small, young state with great achievements... This connects all of our citizens to what we have done in the last 70 years. Israel is a real miracle.”