Miri Regev arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 3rd, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev has decided that no representative of Diaspora Jewry will light a torch during the state ceremony held Independence Day Eve on Mount Herzl.
Regev instituted the lighting of a torch by a Diaspora Jew ahead of the torch-lighting ceremony in 2017. The torch-lighters selected from abroad at the time were Birthright co-founder Michael Steinhardt and Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier.
In 2018, the committee chose Jewish actress, neuroscientist and social activist Mayim Bialik to light the torch, but she was unable to attend the ceremony due to previous commitments to the comedy television show The Big Bang Theory. Others who were also considered included Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump; attorney Alan Dershowitz; and actress Barbra Streisand.
This year, Regev decided to cancel the Diaspora torch following the controversy surrounding the construction of an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall. Regev left the ministerial committee for the holy sites after refusing to approve upgrades to the existing plaza near Robinson’s Arch along the Western Wall’s southern section.
Regev’s office defended the MK, stating that she had never said the inclusion of Diaspora Jews would be permanent.
New Right Party leader Naftali Bennett commented on Regev’s decision, saying that “at a time when Jewish communities around the world face daily antisemitic assaults, and when the integral bond between the Diaspora and the State of Israel faces unprecedented pressures, Likud Minister Miri Regev has decided to block a representative of Diaspora communities from lighting a torch on Israel’s Independence Day.”
“This is an insult to all the Jewish people,” Bennett continued. “It is an insult to millions of Jews around the world who look to Israel as their homeland, and to the millions of Jews who have come from the four corners of the globe to make aliyah to Israel.”
Bennett further called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to overturn this ridiculous decision of Minister Regev. As Education Minister and Diaspora Minister, I will make sure that schools in Israel will include the Diaspora communities in their ceremonies to mark Independence Day. We are one people!”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement, said: “With all due respect to the Independence Day torches, this is not the worst blow from the government to the fabric of relations with the diaspora. To a great extent, the cancellation of the torch only reflects the government’s current conduct towards the many Jewish communities abroad.”
Chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies Yoaz Hendel wrote on his Twitter page: “The ceremony is not yours, Miri, it is the Israeli nation’s. We also have a responsibility to the Jewish people in the Diaspora, proud sovereignty in our country, no proud party activity.”
The Ruderman Family Foundation, which focuses in part on developing relationships between Israel and the Diaspora, denounced Regev’s “misguided decision.”
Jay Ruderman, president of the foundation, said that Regev is “wrong to disrespect millions of Jews around the world and their vital connections to Israel by discontinuing the Diaspora torch at the [Independence Day] ceremony.
“Regev’s misguided decision threatens to unnecessarily set back relations between Israel and worldwide Jewry,” Ruderman said.
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