PM plans to break with tradition and address key Independence Day event
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PM plans to break with tradition and address key Independence Day event

Move irks Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who normally gives the main address to the crowd and nation

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, right, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, light the ceremonial torch during the official state ceremony of Israel's 69th Independence Day at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, May 1, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, right, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, light the ceremonial torch during the official state ceremony of Israel's 69th Independence Day at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, May 1, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to attend and address the annual torch-lighting ceremony that marks the start of Israel’s Independence Day next April, a break from tradition in which the Knesset speaker is the most senior official at the event.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is said to be unhappy with the new plan and is considering boycotting the official state event, Hahadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported Thursday without citing any sources.

The lighting of torches by 12 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, that includes parades, dancing, music, and fireworks.

Netanyahu’s participation is part of a drive to revamp the ceremony, held at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, to give it an added boost on what will be Israel’s 70th birthday. The prime minister also recently sent a personal letter to heads of state around the world inviting them to the event. Previous ceremonies were usually attended by foreign envoys or military attaches.

Education and Culture Minister Miri Regev, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, has told the ceremony’s organizing committee of the changes, which she reportedly justified as a cost-saving measure instead of holding a separate event for the visiting dignitaries, an alternative plan pushed by Edelstein.

According to the TV report, Netanyahu has also telephoned some world leaders asking them to come and the most senior figure to turn up will also be given a chance to address the crowd.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 7, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL HAARETZ)

Edelstein is against changing the production and has made his opinion clear to the prime minister, the report said.

Channel 2 reported that the Shin Bet security agency is also looking into how to accommodate the thousands of people who arrive at Mount Herzl during Israeli Memorial Day to visit the graves of fallen soldiers in the national military cemetery that is part of the site.

The television station also assessed that since Netanyahu is making the arrangements to speak at the ceremony he apparently doesn’t plan on calling early elections before Independence Day, which begins on the night of April 18.

Last year Netanyahu did not attend but recorded a video message that was screened during the ceremony, while Edelstein addressed the participants.

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