Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Thursday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s credibility has been hurt after the premier spoke for nearly three times the length he had agreed to at Israel’s official Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony Wednesday evening.
In an interview aired Thursday with Channel 10, Edelstein also took aim at Culture Minister Miri Regev, who organized the ceremony and pushed for Netanyahu’s inclusion, saying the festivities had been “ruined.”
The state ceremony was overshadowed by the political squabble between Edelstein and Regev, both members of the ruling Likud party, over Netanyahu’s determination to attend the event and address the invited guests. The Knesset speaker is traditionally the most senior official to speak at the event, which is supposed to be kept free of politics.
Edelstein initially threatened to boycott the event over the demand by Regev, whose ministry is responsible for producing it, to allow Netanyahu to deliver a speech. Edelstein claimed the prime minister’s unexpected inclusion in the official 70th Independence Day festivities amounted to “politicizing” the event.
The sides reached a compromise deal allowing Netanyahu to light a torch and make a short speech no more than five minutes in length and limited in scope to the Declaration of Independence.
But once he took the podium, Netanyahu’s comments turned to the state of the country under his leadership, and the “short” speech went on for almost 14 minutes, far longer than Edelstein’s eight-minute address.
Edelstein told Channel 10 in an interview on Thursday that “after a few minutes” he realized he had been duped. “I remind you that it wasn’t a secret agreement, where it’s his word against mine. There was a formal announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office on the matter.”
Asked what would happen if Netanyahu, his Likud party chief, makes a request from him in the future, the Knesset speaker said “the story will probably have influence, the credibility has been hurt. I tend to honor agreements I make with my colleagues.”
Edelstein dismissed claims made by Regev that he had spoken to her threateningly in a private meeting.
“I remember what I responded to her because it was very short. I told her I was done with her nonsense and that if she continues in that path it would be a very serious political mistake,” he said.
“We need to remember that when two people quarrel they each need to search where they are wrong. No matter how much I search, I can’t find where I was in the wrong,” he added, charging that Regev had made statements to the press instead of calling him up directly.
Edelstein mocked Regev when asked about a potential future political competition with her; both see themselves as potential candidates to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister. He noted that he won a higher slot than her in the Likud list of candidates to the current Knesset, and chided her for being the IDF’s spokesperson during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip while he opposed it and spent several months with settlers before their evacuation.
More than anything, Edelstein said the affair has been hard on him since he didn’t tend to enter public rows of this sort, which “harm the Likud and have caused it in the past to lose [its position in national] leadership.”
Responding to the interview, Regev tweeted that it was “full of lies and half-truths, if not completely staged. Edelstein continues to harm Likud, the prime minister, and me, and to behave in a manner which is as far as possible from dignified.”
Netanyahu didn’t directly respond to Edelstein’s allegations, merely commenting that “nothing will cast a shadow over the moving ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.