Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has reportedly decided to cancel the participation of Diaspora Jewry in the annual torch lighting ceremony that marks the opening of Israel’s Independence Day.
After instituting the practice two years ago, Regev reneged and will use only Israeli personalities this year, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday. Regev is responsible for selecting the people who are honored with lighting the 12 torches that traditionally launch Independence Day, which begins this year on May 8.
Regev’s office reportedly claimed that having a Diaspora representative each year was never a permanent decision. In 2017 a torch was jointly lit by Birthright founder Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Mayim Bialik, the American actress who stars in the hit sitcom “Big Bang Theory,” was selected in 2018, but couldn’t make the ceremony because of a busy work schedule. Other candidates considered to light the torch included US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz and performer Barbra Streisand. In the end, there was no Diaspora torch last year.
An unnamed source in the government who deals with Diaspora Jewry said the decision was a serious mistake and would serve to increase Diaspora Jewry’s sense of alienation.
“Regev canceled it only because it does not bring her seats,” the source was quoted as saying in the report.
Even though elections are scheduled for April 9, Regev will remain in her position until a new government is formed, likely after Independence Day.
Being selected to light a torch is seen as a great honor in Israel. It was not stated when Regev would announce her choices for this year’s ceremony.
The move was “a petty maneuver to earn a couple of points or to prevent someone else from scoring them,” another government source was quoted as saying. “On its merits, she knew it would offend Jews abroad but not voters in Israel, so what did she care? The Diaspora does not go to the polls (in Israel).”
Jay Ruderman, head of the private Boston-based philanthropic Ruderman Family Foundation, blasted the decision.
“The State of Israel was established as the homeland of the Jewish people and continues to be a beacon for Jews all over the world,” Ruderman said in a statement, adding that Jews abroad were a key support base for Israel.
“Minister Miri Regev is wrong to disrespect millions of Jews around the world and their vital connections to Israel by discontinuing the Diaspora torch at the Yom Haatzma’ut ceremony,” he said. “Regev’s misguided decision threatens to unnecessarily set back relations between Israel and worldwide Jewry.”