Amid overhaul turmoil, thousands demand politicians stay out of Memorial Day events

Report says panel overseeing ceremonies for fallen Israelis unable to decide on sensitive subject, leaves decision to PMO

People stand still during the Memorial Day siren at Nahalat Yitzhak military cemetery in Tel Aviv on May 4, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
People stand still during the Memorial Day siren at Nahalat Yitzhak military cemetery in Tel Aviv on May 4, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel is still reeling from the national crisis over the government’s judicial reform plan, and while the legislation has been paused to allow for negotiations, societal tensions remain high, and are liable to spill over into the solemn days coming up this month, which are usually marked by unity and strict decorum: Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.

Of particular sensitivity is Memorial Day, in which the country honors its fallen soldiers and victims of terror and nationalistic attacks — an issue that deeply affects all sectors of society, regardless of politics. Memorial Day, on April 25 this year, and the ceremonies to honor the fallen, are seen as sacrosanct.

But they also traditionally heavily feature politicians, with members of the government speaking at numerous military cemeteries during state ceremonies throughout the day — making the day’s events volatile.

Ahead of this year’s ceremonies, and with the overhaul and its potential for massive upheaval still very much unresolved, many families of slain Israelis who oppose the judicial shakeup have warned they will not tolerate members of the current government taking part in official ceremonies.

Some opponents of the overhaul who have lost loved ones in defense of the country and its free democratic values say they will not stand speeches by those they believe are acting in direct violation of those values. Meanwhile, bereaved families who support the government and view its actions as pro-democratic are seething at the notion of critics bringing politics into a day they view as sacred.

The heightened tensions have raised fears that the somber events could descend into heckling and protests against members of the government, further deepening the internal rift caused by the overhaul effort.

A ceremony marking Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Kan news reported over the weekend that the Public Commitee for Memorializing Soldiers has received thousands of messages in recent days from families that oppose the overhaul, urging them not to involve politicians from any side in this year’s events. It has also received many opposite requests from supporters, who ask that longstanding tradition not be changed.

Having failed to reach a decision on the matter, the committee has now left the decision to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Soldiers place Israeli national flags showing black sashes atop with the Hebrew word ‘Remembrance’ on graves, at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 13, 2021, as they pay respects to fallen soldiers on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). (Jack Guez/AFP)

Negotiations between the coalition and opposition on a potential compromise over the judicial overhaul are ongoing, but are largely seen as unlikely to produce agreement.

President Isaac Herzog began hosting the talks this week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed on Monday to temporarily halt the government’s push to upend the judicial system following widespread protests, which peaked after he fired his defense minister who warned about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals.

Officials involved in the talks told Channel 12 on Friday that talks are already dead in the water. They said that during the early negotiations, the coalition has insisted that it end up with control of the Judicial Selection Committee, a non-starter for the opposition, essentially ending the chances for the negotiations before the talks got off the ground.

The makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee — which currently divides power between politicians and justices to decide on new judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court — is one of the most contentious parts of the overhaul.

The coalition has almost completed legislating a bill that would heavily politicize the committee and give the government control over almost all judicial appointments.

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