Aryeh Deri, the minister of the interior and head of the Shas ultra-Orthodox party, indicated in a Thursday evening radio interview, hours before the Meron tragedy, that he had blocked Health Ministry efforts to impose restrictions on the event, Channel 13 reports.
The TV station broadcasts an excerpt from the Thursday interview, with Radio Kol Hai, in which Deri says he “of course would not allow” the planned regulations to be introduced, and complains that the ministry was still trying to get the rules imposed as late as Wednesday night.
Deri’s comments appear to relate to a framework agreement, drawn up by Health Ministry officials, the police and others, which, among other provisions, would reportedly have restricted participation at the Lag B’Omer festivities Thursday night to 9,000 people, and required that they provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
In the event, about 100,000 people attended the Meron festivities. Forty-five participants were crushed to death in a stampede in a narrow walkway along the exit route at around 1 a.m. Friday morning, in what is believed to be Israel’s worst peacetime disaster.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, in a Channel 13 interview on Wednesday evening, had discussed the carefully negotiated framework, and said it was “shameful” that it was not brought to a government vote and implemented. “We worked for weeks on a framework,” Alroy-Prais, the head of public health at the Health Ministry, said. “It was approved by all the parties, by the police, by the Religious Affairs Ministry, by the Interior Ministry — everyone. But in the end it fell through because no one would take responsibility for enforcement.”
In the excerpt from Deri’s interview, the Shas minister begins by saying, “It wasn’t a simple decision,” in an apparent reference to holding the mass gathering at Mount Meron — the largest gathering in Israel since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “It’s a big responsibility. We know the importance of Lag B’Omer. Not all the officials understand this…”
He continues: “It was not simple, including last night. I suddenly realized that the Health Ministry is demanding to impose regulations, and to get this approved [by cabinet ministers] in a telephone vote. They tried [to do this] for two weeks, and I of course would not allow this. And yesterday somebody decided that there’s no other option, and a whole hour had to be spent… Praise the Lord, we got past this as well.”