Halevi pleads to keep ‘noise of debate’ out of IDF cemeteries on Memorial Day

Military chief says tensions over government’s judicial overhaul plans should be kept out of military graveyards so bereaved families can mourn in solitude

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi is seen at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, April 17, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi is seen at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, April 17, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, called Sunday for Israelis to show respect on upcoming Memorial Day and not turn military cemeteries into a “scene of debate,” amid heightened tension over the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

There has been growing speculation that ministers from the hardline government will be heckled and face protests while participating in upcoming Memorial Day ceremonies.

While small-scale protests are a common occurrence at events commemorating Israel’s war dead, often by bereaved families, the prospect of the political battle over proposed changes to the judiciary spilling into cemeteries and wreath-laying ceremonies on Monday night and Tuesday has sparked concerns that the moves could offend families and harm the sanctity of the day.

In a statement published by the IDF, Halevi said: “Memorial Day establishes a deep connection between the personal and the national. This year, precisely in the shadow of tensions, we must focus on the personal memorial and wrap ourselves in its human power.”

“The decree of memorial obliges us to unite around it, and focus on what connects us,” Halevi wrote in the article.

“We must all respect the cemeteries and not turn them into a scene of debate,” he said.

“There is a deafening power in restraint and silence, and solitude with our fallen loved ones cannot exist under the noise of debate,” Halevi added.

A woman sits next to the grave of a fallen soldier in the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2023, ahead of Memorial Day next week. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some families have said they will visit the graves of their loved ones in the days before Memorial Day, to avoid the government ministers.

The chairman of Yad Labanim, Eli Ben-Shem, said earlier this week that thousands of parents of fallen soldiers had demanded that politicians not attend or speak at Memorial Day ceremonies at military cemeteries.

Ben-Shem warned that verbal and even physical confrontations could break out at military cemeteries if government ministers and MKs — particularly those who did not serve in the IDF — attend Memorial Day events at the sensitive sites.

Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, rejected from the army for extremist activities in his youth, is scheduled to attend an event in Beersheba. Other ministers who did not serve are slated to appear elsewhere.

Many bereaved families have called for Ben Gvir not to attend the ceremony in the southern city.

Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir attends a ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. April 17, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — as well as the opposition’s Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz — have also urged Israelis to put aside deep divisions for the single day this week.

In addition to the call by Netanyahu, Gallant, Lapid and Gantz, a group representing reservist soldiers protesting against the government’s judicial overhaul called on its activists not to demonstrate against the reforms during Memorial Day.

Israel’s Memorial Day will commence on Monday evening when a one-minute siren will blare across the country. On Tuesday morning, a two-minute siren will sound ahead of national memorial ceremonies at Israel’s 52 military cemeteries.

Memorial Day is one of Israel’s few national, non-religious holidays, during which large swaths of the Israeli public typically visit the graves of loved ones and comrades.

Fifty-nine soldiers were killed during their military service since Israel’s last Memorial Day, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry on Friday.

Another 86 disabled veterans died due to complications from injuries sustained during their service.  The numbers brought the total to 24,213 of those who have died during service to the country since 1860.

Most Popular
read more: