Likud minister ends Independence Day honor for Diaspora Jews

Naftali Bennett rips Culture Minister's decision not to have Diaspora Jews represented at annual Independence Day ceremony this year.

Marcy Oster, JTA and A7 Staff ,

Miri Regev
Miri Regev
Marc Israel Sellem/Flash 90

Israel will not have a representative of Diaspora Jewry light a torch this year at the annual Independence Day eve ceremony on Mount Herzl.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) didn’t give a reason, announced Monday, for ending the honor, but it comes in the wake of a difficult year in relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

Regev reserved a torch for a Diaspora Jew at the ceremony starting in 2017, and honorees included Birthright Israel founder Michael Steinhardt and Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier. Last year, actress Mayim Bialik was chosen to light a torch but declined the invite because of her “Big Bang Theory” commitments. The slot was never filled.

Naftali Bennett, the Diaspora Affairs minister, called Regev’s decision “an insult to all the Jewish people.”

The Ruderman Family Foundation was one of the first Diaspora groups to criticize what it called a “misguided decision,” which it said “threatens to unnecessarily set back relations between Israel and worldwide Jewry.”

Relations between Jerusalem and the progressive Reform, Conservative and secular movements in the Diaspora have become strained in recent years, with non-Orthodox movements demanding recognition by the Israeli government, and changes on policies ranging from conversion standards, the definition of who is a Jew, and the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

During the past 10 years, the three Netanyahu-led governments have largely maintained the decades-old Status Quo on religion and state - including non-recognition of alternative Jewish movements.