Opposition leader: ‘If PM speaks at Independence Day event, I must too’

Opposition leader: ‘If PM speaks at Independence Day event, I must too’

Isaac Herzog slams culture minister for seeking to break tradition by having Netanyahu address Israelis at ceremony

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog attends a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog attends a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The leader of the opposition on Monday weighed in on the ongoing feud over plans for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at the official state ceremony to mark Israel’s upcoming 70th birthday.

Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that while the Knesset speaker was the only person who, by tradition, should address the torch-lighting event, he would demand the right to speak if the prime minister did.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, who is responsible for the ceremony, is insisting on breaking with tradition to allow Netanyahu to address the invited guests.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein objects and has threatened to boycott the event, saying that it is the occupant of his position who has always presided over the celebration.

Herzog told Radio 103FM that Regev’s plan would turn the event into a political affair rather a national one.

Sport and Culture Minister Miri Regev, right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the special plenary session opening the winter session of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, October 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Herzog said both Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion, from the left, and Likud’s first prime minister, Menachem Begin, from the right, would never have countenanced appearing at the Independence Day eve ceremony.

“They weren’t people with egos. The country wasn’t built by one person but by many,” he said. “This prime minister and this culture minister created a quarrel for no reason. Are we short of things to argue about?”

While stressing that he would never normally ask to speak at the ceremony, he said he would insist on doing so if Regev had her way and Netanyahu delivered an address.

“If Miri Regev fights for a speech from the prime minster, she should also be fighting for me to speak,” he said. “The law says that after an appearance by the prime minister at an official ceremony, the head of the opposition appears so that the entire nation is represented.”

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein (R) with Minister of Culture Miri Regev (L) during a ceremony at the Knesset to honor the torch-lighters for the 69th Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl, on April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Herzog described the ceremony as a “point of light which unites all sectors of the nation” and warned that people would stop watching it on TV if it filled up with speeches.

The lighting of 12 torches by people who are seen to have made an outstanding contribution to society is a highlight of the annual ceremony, held at nightfall on the eve of Independence Day, along with parades, dancing, music, and fireworks.

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