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'They are scorning our fallen. This is a sacred day'

Bereaved family groups deplore ‘extremist’ hecklers for politicizing memorials

Head of national organization for terror victims says political agitators were among those interrupting Bennett and others, vows to restrict entry in coming years

Herzl Hajaj heckles Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as he addresses the Mount Herzl Memorial Day ceremony for terror victims on May 4, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Herzl Hajaj heckles Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as he addresses the Mount Herzl Memorial Day ceremony for terror victims on May 4, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bereaved family groups and others on Wednesday lambasted hecklers who interrupted Memorial Day addresses by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and others, saying politics should not be mixed in with the day’s sacred remembrances.

“In the name of thousands of bereaved families, we vehemently condemn those who harmed the sanctity of Mount Herzl and the memory of the fallen,” Eli Ben Shem, head of the Yad Labanim memorial organization for soldiers, told Army Radio. “I’m sorry that among us there are extremists who are harming this day of unity. These sacred days should be outside political discussions and arguments.”

The comments came hours after several protesters interrupted a speech by Bennett during a memorial service at Mount Herzl Cemetery commemorating the over 4,000 Israelis killed in terror attacks, calling the premier a “traitor,” “swindler,” and a “rag.”

The heckling lasted for more than five minutes before Bennett began his speech, and he was interrupted several times once he started.

In Petah Tikva, at least one protester yelled at Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during a memorial ceremony as well.

Both Bennett and Shaked attempted to take the criticism in stride, saying the families had a right to have their voices heard.

Interruptions have become relatively common in recent years, including when members of previous governments spoke at Memorial Day ceremonies. However, unlike previous incidents, in which bereaved families used the platform to protest for recognition, rights or against specific policies, critics said Wednesday’s heckling of Bennett and Shaked was driven by political machinations.

A woman reacts during a speech by Naftali Bennett at a state memorial ceremony for victims of terror, at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, May 4, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Abie Moses, the head of the Organization of Victims of Terrorism, said some of the hecklers were not from bereaved families, but rather political agitators. He vowed to tightly restrict entry to such events next year by requiring invitations.

“They can yell, but where will it stop? Where’s the line where the yelling ends,” he told Channel 12 news. “They are scorning our fallen. This is a sacred day for the whole nation to respect the bereaved families, to respect our fallen loved ones.

“To do it today, your provocations and propaganda, you have 364 other days. You have time,” he fumed.

Among the hecklers at the Mount Herzl event was Moshe Meron, a far-right activist who has led protests against Bennett and Shaked under the banner “leftist traitors.”

Right-wing activists chant slogans and hold signs during a demonstration against the possibility of the Yamina party being part of a new government, in Tel Aviv, May 30, 2021. Placards read: Leftists. Traitors. (AP Photo/ Sebastian Scheiner/File)

Meron, a former Kahanist who was reportedly hired by Likud last year for campaigning in the run-up to elections, filmed himself at the event yelling at Bennett for “selling out the country,” as others could be seen telling him to sit down.

In a second video, Meron is heard arguing with police and security guards, refusing to leave “unless you shackle me and drag me out for all to see.”

Other critics also accused the protesters of being motivated by politics, cutting a gash through calls for unity on one of Israel’s most solemn days, amid a hyperpolarized atmosphere.

“It’s forbidden to mix politics and Memorial Day,” the IDF Widows and Orphans organization said in a statement carried by Maariv. “Among bereaved families are widows and orphans, siblings and parents from across the political spectrum. For Memorial Day, one seeks unity and as much distance as possible from anything that divides us on other days.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Mount Herzl Memorial Day ceremony for terror victims on May 4, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud and other opposition parties have sought to drive a wedge between right-wing Yamina and the rest of Bennett’s coalition by criticizing the inclusion of Ra’am, an Islamist faction they denounce as “terror supporters” (but which the party attempted to include in its own government following the 2021 elections).

Ahead of Memorial Day, dozens of bereaved families called publicly for cabinet ministers not to attend Memorial Day ceremonies due to the coalition’s inclusion of Ra’am.

The leader of Ra’am has repeatedly denounced terror and also was in negotiations with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu before joining the current coalition.

Among those to protest during the memorials were Herzl and Merav Hajaj, whose daughter Shir was killed in a 2017 ramming attack. At a Wednesday morning ceremony for fallen soldiers, Merav Hajaj held up a sign reading “Bennett, the one  who formed a government with terror supporters, is not welcome here.”

Aryeh Mualem, head of the Defense Ministry unit for families and memorials, told the Kan public broadcaster that he did not think Hajaj should have been removed from the ceremony.

“She experiences her pain in her own way, that is her pain,” he said.

Arik Hanan, whose brother was killed in 1985 while fighting in Lebanon and who was removed from the Petah Tikva ceremony after heckling Shaked, told the Haaretz daily that the government’s reliance on Ra’am was “inconceivable.”

“There were people who told me to be quiet, but I think it was the right thing,” he said. “If this isn’t the time or place, then when?”

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

Many of those at the ceremonies expressed dismay over the heckling, also accusing protesters of politicizing the memorials.

“I’m appalled that people would abuse a day like today to make political arguments,” said one man.

“The prime minister said that we have differing opinions, and that is fine and legitimate,” added another woman, in interviews with Channel 12 news. “But to disturb is disrespectful in my opinion.”

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