Transportation Minister Miri Regev plans to reach out to opposition leader Yair Lapid over the weekend in hopes of convincing him to reverse his planned boycott of a high-profile state ceremony marking the start of Independence Day, according to a report Friday.
Regev, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party tasked with overseeing the event, has struggled to keep the deep political battle dividing the country from seeping into the national holiday, with Lapid leading a boycott of the event by government critics.
Channel 12 reported that Regev plans to call Lapid on Saturday and appeal to him to adopt a message of unity for Memorial Day. But it said the opposition leader is not expected to agree, in light of his criticism of various aspects of the upcoming ceremony, including a potential recorded message from Netanyahu (which would go against tradition), the honoring of a Likud member as a torch-lighter, Regev’s assertion that the ceremony “is the government’s, not the Knesset’s” (despite the Knesset speaker being the central dignitary) and the minister’s plans to censor any protest at the event.
Lapid has said if the government “wants the ceremony to be everyone’s, they shouldn’t turn it into a political show.”
In his message announcing his plan to skip the event, Lapid also cited the deep societal divisions over the government’s judicial overhaul program.
In a message to Regev, Lapid said he loves the State of Israel “but in three months you have divided Israeli society, and no fake fireworks performance will cover that up.”
“If national unity is so important to you, you would not have dismantled our democracy and instead would have gone to work for Israeli citizens,” he added.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Regev had decided that the live broadcast of the ceremony would give way to a recording of a rehearsal should the event be disrupted by anti-government protesters. She later clarified that a recording will only be aired in case of “extreme malfunctions.”
Lapid said the television networks should not agree to Regev’s proposal, insisting that the torch-lighting ceremony “is not a propaganda broadcast.”
In contrast to Lapid, National Unity leader and former defense minister Benny Gantz said it was incumbent on all political leaders to attend the state ceremonies on Memorial Day as part of their duty as elected officials.
“We public leaders have an obligation and a national responsibility to attend the ceremonies and fulfill our duty…. [We must] do our best and attend, coalition alongside opposition, to show that we are all united on this day,” said Gantz.
“Lapid’s decision not to show up for the torch-lighting ceremony deepens the rift [in society] and leads to more unnecessary hatred among us,” Culture Minister Miki Zohar, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, tweeted in response.
“In these difficult days for us as a nation, whoever views themselves as a leader must work for unity and ceasing the hatred between us,” Zohar added.
Netanyahu himself similarly skipped the ceremony last year while serving as opposition leader.
The Independence Day ceremony is typically an apolitical event formally overseen by the speaker of the Knesset, and prime ministers have not traditionally been invited to speak. Though recent reports had indicated he was considering attending and speaking at the state ceremony — which he has repeatedly pushed to do in the past — outlets have now reported that Netanyahu will not make a speech, possibly due to the enduring national tensions, but may speak in a pre-recorded message.
Lapid’s decision to skip the event came against the background of severe domestic tensions over the government’s controversial judicial reform program, which has led bereaved families to warn some government ministers and MKs not to attend Memorial Day services.
Speaking Wednesday at a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Lapid urged demonstrators not to protest during Memorial Day, a message echoed by Gantz.
“We will honor those who thanks to them we are here today and we will embrace the bereaved families. I call on the entire nation of Israel: Don’t turn the military cemeteries into areas of dispute,” Gantz said during a faction meeting.
Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of the Yad Labanim organization, repeated his warning that there could be verbal and even physical confrontations if ministers and MKs who did not serve in the IDF attend Memorial Day events at military cemeteries.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with groups of bereaved families organizing events for Memorial Day to discuss their opposition to members of government appearing at state events. Gallant strongly pushed back at the idea that politicians should be told to stay away from ceremonies that they have traditionally addressed.
Memorial Day, set to begin the evening of April 24, sees large swaths of the Israeli public visiting the graves of loved ones who have been killed in army service or terror attacks.
Many members of bereaved military families have joined nationwide protests against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, while others support the current coalition and its legislative agenda.