In coalition talks, UTJ said to request full authority at Meron, site of disaster

MK Meir Porush wants control over site, including implementation of findings of investigative panel into 2021 tragedy; he opposed the committee’s formation

United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush arrives for coalition talks at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on November 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush arrives for coalition talks at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on November 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush has requested full responsibility over Mount Meron, a significant religious site in the Upper Galilee, including implementing recommendations made by a committee investigating the deadly disaster during Lag B’Omer festivities there last year, according to a Sunday report.

The Haredi party lawmaker made the request during coalition talks with the Likud party, the Walla news site reported.

Citing sources involved in the talks, the report said the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker wants responsibility over any changes to be made as a result of the findings of the government committee probing the tragic crush at the site in 2021 — which left 45 people dead and more than 150 injured.

Porush, No. 3 on UTJ’s electoral list, had objected to the formation of the state inquiry to look into the tragedy.

The sources told Walla that the demands from Porush, reportedly a candidate to be Jerusalem minister in the government to be potentially led by Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, were under discussion.

Mount Meron, the site of the grave of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, is traditionally visited by thousands of mainly ultra-Orthodox worshipers on the anniversary of his death during the holiday of Lag B’Omer, several weeks after Passover.

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.

The Meron tragedy occurred on April 30, 2021, when thousands of celebrants streamed down 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. It was Israel’s worst civilian disaster.

The taskforce investigating the crush presented its initial findings to Prime Minister Yair Lapid in October, which included a variety of strategies to centralize the event’s management moving forward, as well as to expand and strengthen the gravesite and its surrounding areas.

Specifically, it called for the appointment of a government minister with relevant background to oversee the event’s planning and execution.

Israeli rescue forces and police stand on the stairs where a mass of people were crushed to death and injured during the celebrations of the Lag B’Omer holiday on Mount Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari said Porush was “shameless” in making the request.

“All year long we have dealt with Meron, and no Haredi Knesset member has bothered to study the problems and the corrections we made to save lives. All they care about is business,” she said.

Israel Diskind, whose brother Simcha was killed at Mount Meron, told Walla he was glad an ultra-Orthodox representative requested authority over the site but added, “There’s no authority without responsibility.”

“The first step that must be taken immediately after receiving the authority is to organize the mountain from start to finish. In another six months, the festivities will be held at Meron — there is enough time to protect people’s lives,” Diskind said.

In August, the panel investigating the deadly disaster released a letter of warning, alerting a number of former and current senior officials, including Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster, and former public security minister Amir Ohana, that they may potentially be found responsible for the tragedy.

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