Leading opposition lawmakers Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz joined a rare call for unity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, urging Israelis to put aside deep divisions for a single day next week in honor of Memorial Day.
The joint statement released Friday came as speculation has grown in recent days that ministers from the hardline government will be heckled and protested next Tuesday during their participation in Memorial Day ceremonies, leading some to cancel appearances. On Friday, Minister May Golan, a controversial firebrand recently tapped to lead Israel’s diplomatic mission in New York, became the latest to announce that she would not attend official 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.
At the same time, it has also served to illustrate the depth of the crisis for many Israelis, who say the perils wrought by the judicial overhaul should supersede the day’s solemnity, and argue that they are protecting the very nation soldiers died to defend.
“We must not violate the sanctity of Memorial Day. It is a day when disputes are silenced and we make room for pain and memory,” read the joint statement from the four senior lawmakers.
“The sanctity of the fallen and the respect we have for the bereaved family [must] bring us together,” the statement added. “[When standing] above the graves of our loved ones, we are all brothers.”
“In the 75 years of the State of Israel’s existence, Memorial Day has been a symbol of unity, of love of the people and love of the land — a day when we united with the fallen and embrace the bereaved families. It should be the same this year. In their death, the fallen commanded us to live,” it said.
Netanyahu, Gallant, Lapid and Gantz have each issued their own calls to the same effect but the decision to do so jointly indicated their growing concern for how Memorial Day will pan out.
Lapid, a former prime minister whose Yesh Atid is the largest party in the opposition and Gantz, head of the National Unity party, have both assiduously avoided any appearance of being in agreement with Netanyahu or his cabinet, with even anodyne encounters taking on sharp edges in official accounts.
A similar joint call for unity was issued on Friday by Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas, who also chairs the Federation of Local Authorities, along with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and more than 115 other municipality heads across the country.
“We call on the entire public to act with reverence, mutual respect and unity on this holy day and to stand by the bereaved families and for the memory of the fallen,” the mayors said.
The chairman of the Yad Labanim commemoration organization Eli Ben-Shem recently 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.
Referencing legislation recently proposed by the government that would grant ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students blanket exemptions from IDF service at a younger age than the current law, Ben-Shem said that having politicians who did not perform military service participate in Memorial Day services would be akin to “lighting a bonfire in a cemetery.”
Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, rejected from the army for extremist activities in his youth, is scheduled to attend an event in Beersheba and others who did not serve are slated to appear elsewhere.
On Friday, Likud’s Golan announced she would not be able to attend a ceremony in Israel as planned as she will still be in the US on a work trip.
She said she had desperately wanted to serve in the military, but her family socio-economic circumstances prevented her from enlisting. She described herself as having been an “at risk youth” raised by a chronically-ill single mother whom she needed to care for.
“Hand on my heart, I regret it, but I also know that I had no option to act in a different way,” Golan wrote in a lengthy post posted to social media.
Netanyahu’s office announced earlier this week that the premier had offered to appoint Golan to be the next consul general in New York, sparking backlash from liberal Jewish community leaders due to Golan’s past racist rhetoric.