Organizers of Wednesday night's Yom Ha'atzmaut ceremonies searched high and low for an Arab to accept the honor of holding one of the lit torches that open the official Independence Day celebrations in Israel, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said Monday.
Not one was interested, he said, either because they did not want to take part in official celebrations of the Jewish state, or because they had been intimidated into not participating.
Rivlin said that he was shocked to find that no Arabs were interested in participating in what is considered one of the state's most important honors. “We didn't ask just one [Arab], not just two, not just five or ten,” Rivlin said. “We offered it to dozens of our friends, members of minority groups who are connected to the state in some way. But apparently the fear of the results fell upon them.”
Rivlin said that there was a great deal of pressure on Arab leaders to stay away from official Israeli ceremonies, especially Independence Day ceremonies. “We see this as a very serious development,” he said. “It is serious not only because of what it says about Jewish Zionist-Arab relations, but because the Arab population is apparently not considering what would happen when and if a peace treaty is signed. I am sorry about the situation, and I am sorry for them,” Rivlin said.
“The radicalism that is growing in this country has begun to affect Jewish-Arab relations, both from a national and religious point of view,” Rivlin said. “There were always members of the minority groups who threw their lot in with the state. In the past no one hesitated and no one was afraid.”
Rivlin added that he believed that the main problem the Arabs who refused the honor had with the ceremony was the statement made by participants during the ceremony, “for the glory of the State of Israel.” Apparently, Rivlin said, this statement was seen as “incitement against the Arabs” by members of their communities.