The government was lambasted as “embarrassing” on Sunday after failing to send a single minister to the annual memorial for the soldiers who fell in the Yom Kippur War.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later apologized for the “unfortunate mistake,” and vowed it would not happen again.
Deputy Knesset speaker Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) was the sole lawmaker to attend the ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. President Reuven Rivlin was also in attendance and addressed those gathered, which included representatives from the bereaved families of the Yom Kippur War.
Zionist Union faction head Avi Gabbay called the incident “embarrassing.”
“Each of the fallen soldiers has parents, brothers, sister and comrades, some of whom were there today, that are still carrying tremendous pain from that terrible war,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “And no minister thought it was important enough to come look them in the eye.”
“The government that sent our sons to this war should be expected to send a minister to the ceremony,” said Eli Ben-Shalom, chairman of Yad Labanim, an organization dedicated to helping bereaved families.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak called the absence of cabinet ministers at the event a “moral failure.”
“Shameful and enraging,” he posted on Twitter. “Disrespectful to the fallen soldiers,” said Barak who was also a former IDF chief of staff.
“Where are Bibi and his ministers? Busy with the jobs law? Or with the political ceremony in Gush Etzion? Destroying the Supreme Court? Time to go home,” he said referring to the celebrations held last week to commemorate 50 years of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
The government declared that ceremony a state ceremony, meaning all branches of government were obliged to attend, which led to a controversy and an outcry from many ministers, when Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor refused to send a representative, saying the court could not be involved in controversial issues.
Later, Netanyahu issued an apology for the oversight.
“I am very sorry that there was no representative of the government present at the memorial service for those who died in the Yom Kippur War,” he said in a statement.
“This is an unfortunate mistake and I apologize to the bereaved families. I instructed the Government Secretariat to ensure that in the future there will be representation in the ceremonies of those killed in Israel’s wars. There is no greater obligation to our loved ones who fell so that we could live in our country,” he said.
Defending the absence of government ministers, the Defense Ministry, which organized the ceremony, said that the ceremony only required the presence of one state representative.
The ministry added that once every decade, a larger memorial is held with the attendance of the prime minister, president and Knesset speaker.
Speaking at the ceremony, Rivlin praised the fallen for their heroism.
“The Yom Kippur War was the time of the warriors,” he told the crowd, which included representatives from the families of the 2,222 soldiers that fell in the 1973 war. “It was the bitter and beautiful time of the people’s army,” Rivlin reminisced.
It’s not the first time Netanyahu’s government has come under fire for not attending memorial events and funerals.
After it was castigated for failing to send a representative to any of the four funerals for victims of a January car-ramming terror attack in Jerusalem, the prime minister instructed cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman to formulate a procedure requiring the participation of ministers in the funerals of IDF soldiers who were killed in terrorist activities.
The order did not, however, relate to war memorial ceremonies.