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Bill on compensation for Meron disaster victims bogs down in ministerial dispute

Justice minister says matter should be resolved by a government decision, not legislation, but finance minister says he will only weigh in once the state inquiry is complete

Victims of the April 30, 2021, Mount Meron disaster: Top row (L-R): Chen Doron, Haim Rock, Ariel Tzadik, Yossi Kohn, Yisrael Anakvah, Yishai Mualem, Yosef Mastorov, Elkana Shiloh and Moshe Levy; 2nd row (L-R): Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, Mordechai Fakata, Dubi Steinmetz, Abraham Daniel Ambon, Eliezer Gafner, Yosef Greenbaum, Yehuda Leib Rubin and Yaakov Elchanan Starkovsky; 3rd row (L-R): Haim Seler, Yehoshua Englard, Moshe Natan Neta Englard, Yedidia Hayut, Moshe Ben Shalom, David Krauss, Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, Yosef Yehuda Levy and Yosef Amram Tauber; 4th row (L-R): Menachem Knoblowitz, Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, Yosef David Elhadad, Shraga Gestetner, Yonatan Hebroni, Shimon Matalon, Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, Moshe Bergman and Daniel Morris; 5th row (L-R): Ariel Achdut, Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, Hanoch Slod, Yedidya Fogel, Menahem Zakbah, Simcha Diskind, Moshe Tzarfati, Nahman Kirshbaum and Eliyahu Cohen.
Victims of the April 30, 2021, Mount Meron disaster: Top row (L-R): Chen Doron, Haim Rock, Ariel Tzadik, Yossi Kohn, Yisrael Anakvah, Yishai Mualem, Yosef Mastorov, Elkana Shiloh and Moshe Levy; 2nd row (L-R): Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, Mordechai Fakata, Dubi Steinmetz, Abraham Daniel Ambon, Eliezer Gafner, Yosef Greenbaum, Yehuda Leib Rubin and Yaakov Elchanan Starkovsky; 3rd row (L-R): Haim Seler, Yehoshua Englard, Moshe Natan Neta Englard, Yedidia Hayut, Moshe Ben Shalom, David Krauss, Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, Yosef Yehuda Levy and Yosef Amram Tauber; 4th row (L-R): Menachem Knoblowitz, Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, Yosef David Elhadad, Shraga Gestetner, Yonatan Hebroni, Shimon Matalon, Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, Moshe Bergman and Daniel Morris; 5th row (L-R): Ariel Achdut, Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, Hanoch Slod, Yedidya Fogel, Menahem Zakbah, Simcha Diskind, Moshe Tzarfati, Nahman Kirshbaum and Eliyahu Cohen.

A Knesset committee on Sunday pushed off an opposition bill offering compensation to the victims of a disaster last April at Mount Meron — which left 45 people dead and more than 150 injured in a deadly crush — as Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said the matter should be resolved via a government decision rather than legislation.

However, such a decision didn’t appear to immediately be in the cards as the Finance Ministry said it would only discuss the matter once a state commission of inquiry into the incident submits its final findings. There is no known deadline for the inquiry findings to be finalized, although interim findings were published in November and a fresh discussion was being held by the commission on Sunday.

The Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation convened to discuss a bill presented by United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Asher to compensate the victims’ families and those injured during the overcrowded celebration of Lag B’Omer at the pilgrimage site in northern Israel.

“The financial aid should have been given a long time ago,” said Asher. “Every day that passes is more distress and hardship for the families that have been waiting in vain for more than eight months.”

During the discussion, Sa’ar revealed that he has been urging Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to allocate funds for compensation as part of a cabinet decision.

“I think the government can and should resolve this,” Sa’ar said. “We can solve this not via legislation but via a government decision. I have handed a certain proposal to the finance minister that includes an outline for a solution.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar leads a New Hope faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Sa’ar argued for Asher’s bill to be pushed off by three months, stressing that “this isn’t a rejection of the issue, it’s a rejection of the bill.” He said he was aware of a threat by the victims’ families to file a lawsuit on the matter, expressing hope that the matter would be resolved “long before” it is filed.

Several coalition lawmakers supported Sa’ar’s stance. Asher said he would support such a decision, adding that it shouldn’t take more than two or three weeks.

“This is a case of some families that are in real poverty,” said Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg. “It’s pretty obvious that they need compensation. For some reason, they have been left to wait for the commission.”

“The families of the Meron disaster victims will be compensated, and better sooner rather than later,” said Labor MK Efrat Rayten.

However, reflecting the differing opinions within the diverse coalition — which spans pro-government spending parties alongside centrist and right-wing, capitalist factions — Liberman’s office said Sunday that “the minister’s approach is to wait for the results of the state commission of inquiry, and only then discuss compensation.”

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A forum representing the victims’ families responded to the bill being pushed off, expressing hope that a government decision is indeed coming.

“The initial aid to the tragedy families shouldn’t have taken so many months; it’s an unnecessary foot-dragging that shouldn’t have happened,” it said.

The Meron tragedy occurred on April 30, as thousands celebrating Lag B’Omer festivities at the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai streamed through a narrow walkway. Some people fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

The deadly crush has been blamed on improperly installed ramparts and walkways.

The state commission of inquiry, chaired by retired Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, has been hearing testimony from a wide array of government figures and law enforcement and religious officials since it convened in August.

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