Israel won’t have Diaspora Jewry representative light Independence Day eve torch

Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, Jan. 29, 2017. Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool/Flash90

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — 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 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, and days after tensions over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall boiled over into violence and vitriol.

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.”

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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 liberal Reform, Conservative and secular streams who make up the Jewish majority in the Diaspora have been strained over the haredi Orthodox authorities’ strict control over religious institutions in Israel, and by various moves by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government that they see as hurting Israel’s democratic image abroad. Right-leaning and Orthodox Jews tend to be more aligned with the current government.