search

Minister said to muzzle police chief’s request for Meron probe commission

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana denies intervening; police say they are waiting on state comptroller’s probe

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (L) and Public Security Minister Minister Amir Ohana at the bonfire lighting celebrations for Lag B'Omer, hours before the tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Israel Police)
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (L) and Public Security Minister Minister Amir Ohana at the bonfire lighting celebrations for Lag B'Omer, hours before the tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Israel Police)

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana reportedly told Israel Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai to drop a request for a state commission of inquiry into the deadly Meron festival disaster.

There have been increasing demands for a state probe of the tragedy at Lag B’Omer celebrations last week that killed 45 people in a crush and injured over 150.

During a meeting of senior police commanders, Shabtai declared that he would make a formal request to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to set up a state commission of inquiry, Channel 13 reported Monday.

At some point during the Monday morning meeting, Ohana arrived and, after learning of Shabtai’s intention, asked to speak with the chief in private. When they returned to the room, Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi also voiced his request for a state inquiry, at which point Ohana asked to speak with him too, in private, according to the report.

What was said between the minister and the two police officers was not reported but no request has been made by Shabtai to Mandelblit.

Police said in response that during the meeting Shabtai had demanded that an investigative committee be established to examine the circumstances of the disaster and the role of all relevant organizations. Other options were also raised, including by Shabtai himself, the statement said.

Ohana spoke with the police chief and others both before and after the meeting, but before any final decision was taken on the matter, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman announced a special probe of the disaster, which is different from a state inquiry commission.

“Therefore, it was decided, at this stage, to wait for the outcome,” the police said.

A statement on behalf of Ohana said that “as usual, in the past few days attempts are made to attribute to the minister and police claims and actions that have no relation to the truth. So also in this case.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in northern Israel on April 29, 2021, as they celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Later in the day, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ruled there was no legal obstacle to prevent the current caretaker government from forming a state commission of inquiry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Hebrew media reports, fears the political repercussions of such an inquiry.

The tragedy occurred early Friday, as thousands streamed through a narrow walkway that was covered with metal flooring and may have been wet, causing some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit. Some apparently fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

Multiple reports in Hebrew media outlets indicated that there had been immense pressure by religious lawmakers ahead of the festivities to ensure that there would be no limits placed on the number of attendees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 100,000 ultra-Orthodox pilgrims ultimately attended the event; a framework drawn up by the Health Ministry, in consultation with other government officials, police, and others, would have limited the event to 9,000 participants but was not implemented.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed