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Some bereaved families tell ‘terror supporting’ cabinet to stay away on Memorial Day

Flyer signed by dozens of people with fallen relatives is criticized by Eli Ben Shem, chairman of Yad Labanim, for mixing the mourning with politics

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)
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)

Dozens of bereaved families issued a call this week demanding that cabinet ministers not attend Memorial Day ceremonies for their loved ones.

In a full-page advertisement published in the Makor Rishon newspaper, a group of people who lost relatives to war or terror accused the government of being sustained by terror supporters and called on cabinet members to therefore stay away from commemorative ceremonies held across Israel on Tuesday evening and Wednesday, when Israel marks its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

The phrase “We don’t want a hug from you” was printed in large letters underneath a picture of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas. The flyer — which was also posted at sites across Jerusalem — reads, “We, bereaved families, who have sacrificed that which is more precious to us than anything, demand that members of a government with terror supporters not attend the memorial services for our relatives who were murdered by terrorists.”

The inclusion of Ra’am, an Islamist political party, in the current government has drawn consistent attacks from the right-wing opposition, accusing the coalition of being unable to oppose terrorism. Ra’am’s Abbas has repeatedly denounced terrorism, and has noted that before this coalition was formed he had held talks with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something the opposition leader has downplayed and denied was related to coalition building.

Other bereaved families, however, spoke out against those who signed the flyer. “I feel a moral and ethical duty to say clearly that there is no place for political statements in the discourse concerning bereavement, especially on the eve of Memorial Day — a sacred date for all of us,” said Eli Ben Shem, chairman of Yad Labanim, a memorial organization for Israeli soldiers, according to Channel 12 news. Ben Shem lost his son Lt. Kobi Ben Shem in the 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster.

Herzl Hajaj, a bereaved father who signed on to the advertisement, told Channel 12 that he and the other bereaved families were “against the government that Bennett formed with supporters of terrorism,” charging that Ra’am’s MKs are “outspoken supporters of terrorism.”

No cabinet minister appears to have changed plans in response to the protest. However, it has reportedly caused an uneasy feeling amongst some ministers, who are expected to limit their involvement at ceremonies in order to avoid confrontations with mourners who hold such sentiments, according to the report.

Separately, some members of the coalition are facing criticism for their decision to attend a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, an event that produces controversy every year.

On Monday, it was revealed that Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana and Meretz MK Mossi Raz plan to attend the annual ceremony. In response, the opposition Likud party issued a statement calling on Bennett to bar members of his coalition from attending the event.

Director Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin at a screening of a 2017 documentary film which she produced (courtesy)

“Bennett must condemn and prevent members of his coalition from attending a ceremony commemorating terrorists and comparing them to IDF soldiers on Memorial Day,” Likud said in the statement.

The ceremony has been deeply controversial since its inception, particularly among right-wing Israelis, with critics accusing it of legitimizing terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers to those who attacked them.

Participants watch the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony near Bethelehem on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 (Credit: Ghassan Bannoura/Combatants For Peace)

Supporters say it represents an effort by those who have lost the most in the conflict to give meaning to the deaths of their loved ones by turning away from violence.

In a stormy session of the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday, Raz fired back at criticism of the event from Likud MK Ofir Katz.

“Who are you to tell families who have lost loved ones how to mark their grief?” Raz said. “What audacity and what hatred [you must have] to voice the things said here.”

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