Independence Day preparations disrupted by clash between minister, Knesset speaker

Amir Ohana cancels participation of Knesset Guard in annual torch-lighting ceremony after Miri Regev reportedly informs him he will not be giving speech at event

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

The 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
The 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

A feud between Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana has disrupted preparations for next week’s Independence Day celebrations, with Ohana instructing the Knesset Guard not to cooperate with rehearsals for the annual torch-lighting ceremony.

According to Channel 12, Ohana’s decision came after Regev, who is in charge of this year’s festivities, informed him last Thursday that he would not be given the traditional honor of addressing the event — and would instead be limited to making brief remarks during the torch-lighting portion.

Independence Day begins this year on the eve of May 13.

The ceremony will be held this year with a special, scaled-back format in light of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas and the solemn atmosphere across the nation following the terror group’s October 7 massacre and the ongoing hostage crisis, Regev announced Thursday.

Despite this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will not be participating in person, was invited to record a video address, Channel 12 reported.

Pushing back against criticism that Ohana’s remarks had been “cancelled,” Regev said in a statement that he had merely been asked to combine two separate sets of remarks in order “to allow the expansion of the memorial [segment of the ceremony] and to give broad expression to the heroes of Israel who were chosen to raise a torch.”

Knesset speaker Amir Ohana at the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Neither Ohana nor Regev’s spokespeople responded to requests for comment.

Weighing in on the controversy on Sunday morning, Sports and Culture Minister Miki Zohar told Army Radio that he believed Ohana should be allowed to address the ceremony.

“It is not correct that the torch-lighting ceremony should be managed by politicians. At the beginning of this government term I suggested to Netanyahu that he transfer its management to a professional committee, [but in the end] he decided otherwise,” Zohar stated.

New Hope MK Zeev Elkin also spoke out against Regev and Ohana’s spat, tweeting last week that over the last year they had “done everything to sow division and discord and damage every symbol of statehood.”

“Haven’t we suffered enough from the results of your actions over the past year?” he asked, appearing to refer to the entire current government, rather than just the two feuding officials. “Enough! Stop right now and stop trying to dismantle what is left of Independence Day!”

Aside from the political controversy surrounding this year’s torch-lighting, the event was also affected by the withdrawal of Nasreen Yousef, one of the designated torch-lighters, who said that she will not accept the honor due to threats against her and her family.

This year’s upcoming Memorial Day has been a source of controversy as well, with critics accusing decision-makers of showing insensitivity ahead of Israel’s first post-October 7 national commemoration day for fallen soldiers and terror victims.

Then-minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev is seen at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, April 22, 2020, inspecting preparations for Israel’s 72nd independence day. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking with Channel 12 news last week, Yad Labanim chairman Eli Ben-Shem said he had appealed to both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to consult with his organization, which represents bereaved families, before finalizing the government’s plans.

However, in the end, the government made its decisions “as if intended to provoke, to ignite fires,” he said.

Some politicians and family members of victims of the October 7 Hamas massacre have asked government ministers and lawmakers to refrain from speaking at the various ceremonies on May 12-13, citing concerns that the day will be tainted by the presence of divisive politicians, whom many blame for the failures surrounding the unprecedented Hamas terror assault.

Several ministers were greeted with protests and disruptions during Memorial Day ceremonies across the country in 2023, including clashes between the families of fallen soldiers at a ceremony attended by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a military cemetery in Beersheba.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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