Culture Minister Regev defends torch lighting honor for foreign leader

This is the first time that a foreign leader will light one of the ceremony’s 12 torches.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (photo credit: REUTERS)
Culture Minister Miri Regev
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev on Saturday night defended her decision to invite Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández to light a torch as part of Israel’s annual Independence Day ceremony on April 18.
This is the first time that a foreign leader will light one of the ceremony’s 12 torches. Every year, prominent Israelis or Jews from the Diaspora are honored as torch-lighters at the Mount Herzl ceremony in Jerusalem.
Hernández will light the torch along with the Foreign Ministry’s Agency for Development Cooperation (MASHAV). Hernández, who completed a MASHAV enrichment course in 1992, is the first MASHAV graduate to be elected to lead his country.
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg called on Regev to cancel Hernández’s invitation in a letter sent on Friday. She called the invitation “a scandalous decision that legitimizes a president responsible for grave human rights violations in his country.” She claimed that Hernandez was invited in order to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an excuse to attend an event where the main speech is traditionally delivered by the speaker of the Knesset.
Regev accused Zandberg of trying to make headlines at the country’s expense.
“Zandberg’s baseless mudslinging harms the national interests of Israel,” Regev said in response. “He [Hernández] was elected in democratic elections that were recognized by the US, the EU and the UN.
Unlike Zandberg’s claims, he is successfully fighting drugs and crimes in his country.”
Regev and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein have feuded in recent weeks over Netanyahu’s decision to address the ceremony. Edelstein’s office declined to comment on the invitation to Hernández. Regev is chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, which is responsible for the ceremony.
“Bienvenidos Presidente Hernández!” Regev said when announcing his invitation. “I am happy and proud that President Hernández... will attend.”
Regev also announced on Saturday night that torches would be lit by actors Ze’ev Revah and Lea Koenig.
It was reported over the weekend that former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Carmi Gillon had called for the event to be boycotted due to the dispute. But in an interview with i24 News, he clarified that he only wanted Netanyahu’s speech boycotted if he addressed the event.
“I only said to boycott the speech of the prime minister, Netanyahu, which means that you watch the ceremony and you change the channel or just turn off the television while the speech is broadcast,” Gillon said. “But there is no way I would call anyone to boycott the entire ceremony – the ceremony is very important for me and for every Israeli.”