Coalition scrambles to give Regev responsibility for Independence Day torch event

With barely a week to go, cabinet ministers hold rapid phone vote to task transportation minister with selecting 12 honorees for April 25 evening ceremony

Illustrative: Uri and Mika Banki light a torch during the 74th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on May 4, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Uri and Mika Banki light a torch during the 74th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on May 4, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The committee tasked with selecting participants for the traditional Independence Day torch ceremony has yet to be established — 10 days before the event is set to take place — after the government failed to formally task a minister with coordinating the event, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.

The Mount Herzl ceremony, in which 12 torches are lit to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel, marks the transition from the day of remembrance for fallen soldiers to Independence Day marking the country’s founding in 1948.

The Likud party’s Miri Regev, in addition to her role as transportation minister, is also charged with organizing Israel’s 75th Independence Day national ceremony.

But according to a Channel 12 report, Regev had not yet been officially granted the powers to do so, leading to a hold-up in the selection of participants in the torch ceremony.

The ceremony is usually managed by the Culture and Sport Ministry, of which Regev is a former minister. The current minister is Miki Zohar, also of Likud.

A list naming those selected for the ceremony, considered a great national honor, is usually published well in advance of Independence Day, which this year begins on the evening of April 25.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev attends a conference in Tel Aviv on March 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The cabinet, Channel 12 reported, held a rapid vote by phone on Sunday to appoint Regev chief of the Knesset Symbols and Ceremonies Committee.

Regev is expected to announce the names of those selected for the ceremony later on Sunday, according to the Israel Hayom daily.

According to reports, Regev’s office said there was a record number of applications — said to be nearly 5,500.

The report added that some in the Likud party wanted the list to be made public as late as possible, to reduce any potential pressure on the torch-lighters by opponents to the government’s contentious judicial overhaul.

There were also concerns that participants may attempt to use the ceremony, which is broadcast live on national television, as a platform to make political statements.

Rita Yahan-Farouz lights a torch during the 74th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on May 4, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, Regev sought to coax Opposition Leader Yair Lapid into co-signing a statement declaring the upcoming national holidays, including Independence Day, as off-limits for anti-government protests.

An earlier petition, signed by more than 90 MKs, called for the preceding day, Memorial Day, to be free of any political activity. Thousands of bereaved military families have called for ministers to stay away from ceremonies on the day, amid concerns the events could be exploited for political purposes.

Lapid refused to sign Regev’s expansion of the protest-free zone to include Independence Day, saying that to do so would be to “pretend” that the current situation was acceptable.

The Independence Day ceremony is typically an apolitical event formally overseen by the speaker of the Knesset, and prime ministers have not traditionally been invited to speak. However, reports last month indicated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering attending and speaking at the ceremony, either in person or through a prerecorded speech.

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