Yad Labanim head: 'We want to prevent rifts at cemeteries'

Bereaved families call for ministers to stay away from Memorial Day events – report

Amid contentious judicial overhaul, thousands of relatives of those killed in service, terror attacks worry ceremonies could be exploited for political gain via speeches, protests

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)

Thousands of bereaved military families have called for ministers to stay away from ceremonies on Memorial Day amid concerns the events could be exploited for political purposes, the Kan public broadcaster reported Friday.

According to the report, the families have made the request to Yad Labanim, the largest bereaved family organization in Israel, citing concerns over speeches and potential protests for and against the judicial overhaul.

Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of the organization, held a meeting on the matter on Wednesday at which it was proposed that the speeches at cemeteries be given by senior military commanders rather than politicians.

The fallen soldiers “were killed in the same tank, at the same outpost,” Ben-Shem said, according to the report.

“We want to prevent demonstrations and rifts at the cemeteries,” he said.

Memorial Day, set to begin the evening of April 24, sees large swaths of the Israeli public visiting the graves of loved ones who have been killed in army service or terror attacks.

Israeli soldiers salute in front of the graves of fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on May 2, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Many of the ceremonies at cemeteries around the country feature speeches by ministers — if the call from the families were to be heeded, it would be the first time that they would be barred from speaking at the events.

A petition started by opposition MK Chili Tropper (National Unity party), reportedly signed by 90 lawmakers from both the government and opposition, has called for Memorial Day to be left outside of politics.

Tropper’s letter called for “all factions” of the Knesset and “all the people of Israel” to “refrain from bringing the debate into the cemeteries” and to “leave Memorial Day out of the argument.”

Among the signatories to the document were Opposition leader Yair Lapid, National Union party head Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Justice Minister Yair Levin and MKs Simcha Rothman, Avigdor Liberman and others, the Walla news site said.

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)

However, Transportation Minister Miri Regev refused to sign on unless the petition’s scope was expanded to also include Independence Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day. Likud lawmaker Regev is charged with organizing the national ceremonies for those days.

Lapid refused to sign Regev’s expanded document, saying that to do so would be to “pretend” that the current situation was acceptable.

“We will not pretend that we are celebrating together and that everything is fine while the government is tearing apart the people of Israel and erasing democracy,” Lapid said in a statement.

“We will not sit back and watch another embarrassing show of flattery for the Netanyahu family,” he added.

On Thursday, dozens of members of bereaved military families demonstrated against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv as part of a “national day of paralysis” declared by protest leaders.

Bereaved families protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, March 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Gavriella Zimmerman, whose son Amir was killed in 2004, said that she felt she had no choice other than to protest.

“As a bereaved mother it’s hard to wave the flag, but I feel like I am on the edge of the abyss — one small push and we will fall in and won’t come back again,” she told Walla.

“This is not what Amir died for, a ruined country,” she said.

Ash Obel contributed to this report.

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