JERUSALEM (JTA) — The chairperson of the left-wing Meretz Party called for the Israeli government to cancel an invitation to the president of Honduras to light a torch in Israel’s annual Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl.
Tamar Zandberg in a letter to Culture Minister Miri Regev said that the decision to include Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was reelected for a second term in November, in the ceremony is a “scandalous decision that legitimizes a president responsible for gross violations of human rights in his country, solely to provide an excuse for (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to attend as well.”
Zandberg also noted that “Honduras has one of the world’s most corrupt and dangerous police forces. According to reports, civil and military police and the army itself have been involved in serious violations of human rights in the past few years, including torture, threats and extra-judicial killings of reporters and activists for the environment, farmers’ rights, LGBT rights and Indians’ rights.”
“The word ‘And to the glory of the State of Israel,’ uttered before each torch is lit, will pale in the face of this unwanted guest and the circumstances surrounding his invitation,” Zandberg also wrote.
Regev called Zandberg’s criticism of Hernandez “empty accusations with no basis.” She also said: “It would be best for all of the shouters from the Left, and primarily Miss Zandberg, maintain stately behavior instead of looking for headlines.”
Hernandez on Thursday confirmed his attendance at the event. Hernández will light the torch at the April 18 ceremony together with a Foreign Ministry official representing its Agency for International Development Cooperation, or MASHAV program. Hernández graduated from a MASHAV enrichment course in 1992 at the beginning of his diplomatic career.
Hernandez’s participation in the event mandates that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be present at the event. Traditionally, the highest ranking government official at the annual Yom Haatzmaut eve ceremony is the speaker of the Knesset. According to protocol, the presence of a foreign president at an official state ceremony obligates the attendance of the prime minister, Ynet reported.
Netanyahu had said last month that he planned to be present for the ceremony to mark Israel’s 70thIndependence Day, leading to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein threatening to boycott the ceremony.
Honduras was one of eight countries that voted in December against a United Nations General Assembly resolution rejecting the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement earlier that month.