Defense Ministry removes anti-Netanyahu plaque from soldier’s grave

Defense Ministry removes anti-Netanyahu plaque from soldier’s grave

Family of Lee Matt accuses government of coming ‘like thieves in the night,’ stealing surfboard and guitar left at site

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

The grave of fallen soldier Lee Matt at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem (Walla screenshot)
The grave of fallen soldier Lee Matt at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem (Walla screenshot)

The family of slain IDF soldier Lee Matt was outraged on Friday to discover that a plaque placed on the grave of their son, critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, had been removed overnight by Defense Ministry officials.

The Matt family has been fighting a protracted battle with the government over the tombstone regulations, which prevent them from inscribing the names of Matt’s siblings on it. In protest, the family has left the grave without a tombstone in the year since their son was killed in the Gaza Strip. A sign reading “Lilik was killed under the watch of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — Bibi, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon — Bogie” was placed on the plot of the grave instead.

The plaque was removed overnight Thursday-Friday by the Defense Ministry, which said it had received complaints from visitors to the Mount Herzl cemetery. The family said some personal effects, namely a guitar and a surfboard, were taken as well.

“No one notified us. They could have called to tell us,” Smadar Matt, the slain soldier’s mother, told Channel 2. “They came like thieves in the night and wrenched off the plaque we put there, took out the surfboard and guitar from my son’s plot.”

Staff Sergeant Lee Matt, 19, from Eilat (screen capture: Channel 2)
Staff Sergeant Lee Matt (screen capture: Channel 2)

The Defense Ministry said in response that writing anything critical of the State of Israel or expressions of any political sentiment violated the military cemetery guidelines.

“Following complaints by bereaved families whose loved ones are buried in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl that they were hurt by the plaque placed by Lee Matt’s family on his grave, and following the approval of the standing committee of the Public Council for Commemoration of Fallen Soldiers — a group comprised of bereaved families — the sign was removed from the grave,” it said.

Last year, the Defense Ministry rejected the family’s request to add siblings’ names on tombstones, citing a policy of uniformity.

The Matt family’s appeal sparked public debate, with some arguing the importance of preserving the standardization of military cemeteries and others voicing their support for the grieving family and saying that they should be allowed to memorialize their son as they see fit.

Sergeant Matt, from Eilat, served in the Paratroopers Brigade’s elite reconnaissance unit and was killed, at the age of 19, along with two other soldiers after the three entered a booby-trapped house in Khan Younis on July 23, 2014, during the 50-day summer conflict.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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