Honduras President Cancels Participation in Israel Independence Day Festivities

YERUSHALAYIM -
Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez. (Reuters/Jorge Cabrera)

The President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, will apparently not be coming to Israel to participate in Independence Day activities later this month. Hernandez had been set to be the first foreign leader to participate in the state’s official Independence Day celebrations, but after criticism of him from among opposition MKs, he has apparently decided to cancel his participation, the Foreign Ministry said.

President Hernandez, it was reported last week, was to participate in the torch-lighting ceremony next Wednesday night, the official opening of Independence Day events. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev confirmed the Honduran president’s participation over the weekend, saying that she was “happy and proud that the President of Honduras will take part in the lighting of the torches, as a guest of the Foreign Ministry.”

But with the news that Hernandez was likely to bow out, Regev said that if he decides not to come “because of the mud-slinging by opposition MKs, led by Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg, it would show an ugly side of the opposition – that it works together with the BDS movement to douse the light of Israel’s torches. The Honduran President was not going to light a torch himself, but would have accompanied a member of Mashav.”

President Hernandez is actually a graduate of Mashav, an Israeli program for foreign cooperation. He attended the program administered by the Society for the Transfer of Technology, a program of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Cooperation, in 1992. He is the first foreign graduate of the program to become a head of state. Mashav was established in 1958 as an official state program. Some 300,000 people from 140 countries around the world have participated in its programs, which involve training participants in a variety of areas, including education, medicine, agriculture, and emergency response, among others.

Zandberg, Yediot Acharonot reported, last week asked Regev not to allow Hernandez to participate in the event. According to her, the decision to include him “gives legitimacy to a president who is responsible for serious human rights violations. The only reason he was included was to give Prime Minister Netanyahu an excuse to make a speech at the ceremony.” Hernandez has been accused of tampering with the elections that got him re-elected last December, and mass protests were organized by opposition supporters demanding new elections. Meretz activists had applied for a police permit to hold a protest outside the Knesset during the Independence Day opening events where Hernandez would be present.

That was apparently enough for the Honduran president. The Yediot report said that his staff contacted Regev and cancelled his visit. In her remarks Monday, Regev said that the incident “proves that we have an irresponsible opposition that does not understand anything about foreign relations. The Honduran President was elected twice and was congratulated by two U.S. Presidents – Barack Obama after his first election, and Donald Trump after his second. He was also congratulated by the leaders of Europe. Only here do we find what to criticize. Our opposition finds any excuse to ruin all the nice events in this country.”