Honduras's President Juan Orlando Hernández.
(photo credit: CLAUDIO REYES / AFP)
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez decided on Monday not to take part in next week’s Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony following sharp criticism from within Israel of his planned participation in the event.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it was “sorry” that Hernandez would not be coming but “welcomed the friendship between the two countries.”
It is not yet clear the degree to which the brouhaha over the invitation will cloud ties between the two countries.
Honduras was one of only eight countries that voted alongside Israel against a resolution in the UN in December that condemned the US for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Honduras was also seen as a leading candidate to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
which has already announced it will make the move.
Israel’s non-resident ambassador to Honduras, Matty Cohen, who is stationed in Guatemala, was in contact with Hernandez’s staff. He reported to the Foreign Ministry that because of the attention – much of it negative – that the invitation to Hernandez had triggered in Israel’s media, the president reconsidered the matter.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev invited Hernandez last week to be one of the 12 people to light a torch at the central Independence Eve ceremony on Mount Herzl, the first time a foreign leader would light one of torches. The plan was for him to light the torch along with a representative from MASHAV – the Foreign Ministry’s’ Agency for Development Cooperation – which is to be honored at the ceremony with the distinction of lighting one of the torches.
Hernandez was chosen to highlight that one of MASHAV’s 300,000 graduates went on to become the president of a country.
The invitation immediately drew fire.
Meretz head Tamar Zandberg termed the invitation “scandalous” because it “legitimizes a president responsible for grave human rights violations in his country.” She also charged that Regev only invited him to ensure that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would attend and speak at the ceremony, since protocol would dictate that if a foreign leader is in attendance, Netanyahu should be there as well, and also speak.
The question of whether Netanyahu should be allowed to speak at the ceremony has been a bone of contention between him and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein over the format of the annual event.
Even before Jerusalem received word of Hernandez’s final decision, Regev blasted Zandberg, saying she and “her colleagues on the extreme Left joined the BDS movements against Israel in order to extinguish the torch.”
Regev said the opposition did not understand the ramifications of this on Israel’s foreign relations.
“The president of Honduras signed a $150 million agreement with Israel,” she said of a recent arms deal. “I didn’t see Zandberg tweet about that.
The opposition needs to be responsible and participate in the celebrations, not slander a president elected by his people.”