Pass the torch

The original decision to cancel Diaspora’s participation demonstrates how little government ministers understand about the delicate relationship and tension between Israel and worldwide Jewry.

March 18, 2019 22:17
3 minute read.
A TORCH burns on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, 2017

A TORCH burns on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, 2017. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)


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Miri Regev’s decision to make a U-turn and reinstate the participation of Diaspora Jewry in the Independence Day ceremony was better late than never.

When the Culture and Sports minister first decided to throw water on the flame being held by a Diaspora Jew in the torch-lighting observance, she said they had been invited for the first time in the two previous years because Israel was marking two milestones: the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

But now that those ceremonies are over, Regev decided to return to the previous arrangement – without a Diaspora representative.

Diaspora Jewry’s public figures and organizations promptly came after Regev. Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett called it “an insult to all the Jewish people,” Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog and other Diaspora leaders wrote that it “has the potential to increase alienation from Diaspora Jewry” and the Ruderman Family Foundation said it was a “misguided decision.”

In reinstating Diaspora’s inclusion in the state ceremony on Mount Herzl three days later, Regev said she was touched by the pleas of French Jewry, posting on her Facebook page:

“When I received several appeals from our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora, and after we have seen the emergence of ugly antisemitism against our people in the Diaspora, I decided that specifically because of the spirit of our people and as a response, a place of honor should be given this year as well to our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora, who go proudly and upright with their Jewish symbols despite the despicable actions of those who want to destroy us.”

But why only after all the brouhaha? Why isn’t Diaspora Jewry being included formally in many or even all state functions, seeing that they are already part of such functions: Diaspora Jews who on Memorial Day stand in cemeteries next to Israelis in grief over their sons and daughters lost in defense of the state; Diaspora Jews who on Independence Day stand next to Israelis and wave the flag, celebrating the vast contributions that they, too, have made to the state.

While the reversal of Regev’s decision to cancel was correct, it seems like a Band-Aid, an attempt to sweep under the rug what threatens again to needlessly set back relations between the two communities.

Moreover, the original decision to cancel Diaspora’s participation demonstrates how little government ministers understand about the delicate relationship and tension between Israel and worldwide Jewry.

Diaspora Jewry has been feeling ever more distant from Israel, whether it be over the broken promise on the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall; tensions over women’s prayer at the women’s section of the Kotel that boiled over two weeks ago into sharp vitriol and violence; ultra-Orthodoxy’s strict control over religious institutions in Israel; or the hard-right tilt of the government that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encourage an electoral pact between the Otzma Yehudit and Bayit Yehudi parties.

Regev’s almost flippant manner in reinstating Diaspora Jewry’s participation showed them that it was not a sincere gesture and that it was done just to pacify them. Was it a political move in an election campaign? Does fostering good relations with Diaspora Jewry during elections have little incentive, offering a limited political payoff?

What’s ironic is that Regev was such a strong proponent of the bill declaring Israel the Nation-State of the Jews. Not the Nation-State of all its citizens, but of the Jews – which by definition has to include the Jews of the Diaspora.

While including Diaspora Jews in the torch-lighting ceremony is a tradition started only two years ago, it is not one to throw away.

There is no better place for Israel to show solidarity – Diaspora Jews to Israel, Israel to Diaspora Jews – than at the state ceremony signaling the beginning of Independence Day, a rite considered one of Israel’s highest honors – on the day of national independence for all Jews.

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