(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira blasted Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Sunday for her handling of Independence Day ceremonies, especially regarding the Diaspora.
In mid-March, with very little explanation, Regev suddenly announced that there would be no Diaspora representative at the Independence Eve torch lighting ceremony in May.
In the media, Regev’s decision was interpreted as a slap against the Diaspora after she was criticized by the non-Orthodox movements for standing with the haredi sector against greater empowerment of those movements toward more equal standing at the Western Wall.
By March 19, only about a week later and after a thunderstorm of criticism both from the Diaspora and from Israeli politicians, Regev changed her mind again and said there would be a Diaspora representative.
Without getting deeply into that saga, the comptroller wrote that the entire process for selecting a Diaspora representative is not properly set down by law in a way to ensure proper conduct.
Shapira said that there were no real categories set for selecting the representative nor even a timeline to ensure that the selection was made far enough in advance that the selected candidate would be able to fly to Israel to attend the ceremony.
This very issue prevented Mayim Bialik, the 2018 selected Diaspora representative, from attending, and because the entire process was carried out so late, there was no time to replace her with someone else who could attend.
Last week, Regev announced that Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh president Jeffrey Finkelstein would be the Diaspora representative on May 8.
Finkelstein will represent the Pittsburgh Jewish community, which suffered the most bloody antisemitic attack to ever occur on US soil this past year.
The first Diaspora representatives to be included in the ceremony – at Regev’s initiative and before her relations soured with the Diaspora – were Birthright co-founder Michael Steinhardt and Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Selecting the Diaspora representative was not the only problem. Shapira said that three of the people chosen to light torches were not on the list of candidates which the public committee empowered for selecting candidates.
One candidate who was chosen had even been specifically passed over by the committee.
Rather, Regev or some of her top lieutenants, acted unilaterally and circumvented the selection process at the end to insert certain people they wanted.
Similar irregularities occurred with selection of directors, producers and their staff for the ceremonies, with the final candidate chosen being connected to Regev’s spokesperson, contrary to the preferred candidate chosen by the committee empowered with making the choice.
In a separate but related section of Sunday’s report, the comptroller criticized Regev and her ministry for failing to substantially increase the number of attendees at the ceremony and the practice ceremonies who did not have special connections to her ministry or the Likud party.
The report said that even though 11,770 additional seats were added to provide more seats for the (non-political) general public, only about one-third of the seats ended up being designated to the general public.
For the ceremony itself, though 2,460 additional seats were added, only 370 went to the general public.
Shapira said that part of the problem was that there was no real advertising to the general public of how to get tickets and that even a post on the ministry’s website about getting tickets only went up seven minutes before ticket sales opened.
This tiny time-frame gave a huge advantage to those with connections and in-the-know, said the report.
The deck was also stacked against the general public because around 11% of total seats were given out to employees of Regev’s ministry.
Her ministry gave 572 seats out to local municipal officials and 467 seats to officials connected to the Prime Minister’s Office, said the report.
In addition, the report said that seats were given out directly to the Likud Party, while no seats were given out to any other political party.
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