Squabble over torch-lighting ceremony continues — now over speech length
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Squabble over torch-lighting ceremony continues — now over speech length

Culture Minister Regev asks Knesset speaker to cut his remarks by half to allow for PM's speech, a request Yuli Edelstein appears set to ignore

Minister of Culture Miri Regev speaks during a ceremony at the Knesset honoring the torch lighters of the 70th Independence Day state ceremony at Mount Herzl, that will take place this week. April 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Culture Miri Regev speaks during a ceremony at the Knesset honoring the torch lighters of the 70th Independence Day state ceremony at Mount Herzl, that will take place this week. April 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A row between Culture Minister Miri Regev and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein over Wednesday evening’s official ceremony to mark Israel’s 70th Independence Day reignited on Tuesday when Regev asked Edelstein to cut his address from 15 to seven minutes.

The request was reported made to to allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the invited guests for five minutes, while still ending the live broadcast at the planned time of 10 p.m.

Channel 2 News quoted sources close to Edelstein as saying he was unlikely to accede to the request. Aides said they were not dealing with the request on Tuesday — the eve of Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Tensions first appeared late last month with reports that Netanyahu — backed by Regev — was considering attending the annual torch lighting ceremony, which is normally kept free of politics. Traditionally, the Knesset speaker is the most senior official at the event. Even the president does not attend.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, on January 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Edelstein initially called on staff and lawmakers to boycott the event if the prime minister insisted on attending.

Then, a compromise deal was hatched to allow Netanyahu to light a torch on behalf of all the governments of Israel since the founding of the state, and it was agreed that the prime minister would be allowed to take part in the event once a decade.

In letters sent Tuesday to the directors general of the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s Office, the Culture Ministry’s director general and the ceremony’s producer explained that Monday’s general rehearsal had gone over the allotted time slot with the speaker spending 15 minutes on his address — without allotting time for the prime minister to speak.

In one letter, the ministry’s director general, Yossi Sharabi, emphasized the importance of the speaker limiting his address to seven minutes and and the prime minister keeping to a limit of five.

Extension of the ceremony beyond the time alloted for its live broadcast could negatively impact other Independence Day programs that communities were planning from that hour onwards in Israel and elsewhere in the world, he wrote.

Official celebration of Israel’s Independence Day at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, May 1, 2017. (Screen capture: Facebook video)

A note from the producer was even more specific, asking the prime minister to say no more than 400 words in his address plus up to another 100 while he lit a torch, while the speaker would limit himself to 600 words plus 100 words during his torch-lighting.

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 Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on the eve of Independence Day, alongside parades, dancing, music, and fireworks.

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