Government officials and bereaved families alike are holding heated debates over how best to ensure that next week’s Memorial Day and Independence Day are not marred by protests as the country remains sharply divided over the coalition’s currently paused judicial overhaul plan.
The events and ceremonies of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday and Tuesday passed largely without political flareups, save an incident at a Tel Aviv synagogue where attendees shouted at Likud MK Boaz Bismuth as he spoke.
But with the more politically charged nature and more immediate pains of Memorial Day, politicians and bereaved family members are deep in discussion on how to prevent such incidents from becoming widespread amid fears that arguments could even devolve into violence.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev — who is charged with overseeing this year’s official state ceremony for Independence Day — Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and other security officials reportedly held an urgent meeting recently to discuss concerns that protests or outbursts could mar the ceremony next week. According to Channel 12 news, the thousands of invitees to the event will be required to show their invitation as well as ID in order to be granted entrance.
The TV network also reported that if any protest occurs during the official state ceremony, a taped rehearsal will begin playing instead of the live TV feed to those watching at home. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also reportedly not give a speech during the state ceremony — which he has repeatedly pushed to do in the past, despite it not being tradition.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met Tuesday with groups of bereaved families organizing events for Memorial Day to discuss their opposition to members of government appearing at state events. Gallant strongly pushed back at the idea that politicians should be told to stay away from ceremonies.
“The demand to remove the elected officials from the cemeteries is like a demand to lower the Israeli flag,” Gallant said during the meeting. “We as a society must not lose one of the main social assets we have, which constitutes a bridge of unity for the IDF and the security organizations in general and the bereaved families in particular.”
According to reports of the meeting, the exchanges between Gallant and some family members of fallen soldiers and terror victims were tense. Kan news reported that the defense minister told one bereaved family member that if she did not want to be faced with politicians, she should visit her sibling’s grave on some other day.
Gallant’s comments come a day after the Kibbutz Movement said it had canceled the scheduled appearance of both him and National Unity MK Alon Schuster at a memorial event for its fallen members later this week, following pressure from bereaved families.
One organization of bereaved families, “Boharim BeHaim” (Choose Life), has suggested that at every ceremony attended by politicians, there be a representative from both the government and the opposition — in order to relieve tensions.
Last year, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett was heckled as a “traitor” by some attendees at a Memorial Day service at Mount Herzl commemorating the more than 4,000 Israelis killed in terror attacks.
Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of Yad Labanim, the largest bereaved family organization in Israel, reiterated on Tuesday his call to keep politicians away from Memorial Day events, warning that he feared there will be “disturbances.”
Speaking to Channel 12, Ben-Shem — whose son was one of 73 soldiers killed in the 1997 helicopter disaster — said bereaved families are bitterly divided over the government’s judicial overhaul attempts that critics say will undermine Israel’s democracy.
“The bereaved families are divided — families whose children were killed in the same tank, in the same battle, who used to spend Shabbat together, are not talking to each other today. It’s terrible. There’s a deep rift. There’s a deep rift in the Israeli people… There are lots of families who don’t want politicians [to come to the cemeteries and Memorial Day events next Tuesday].”
He singled out several politicians who did not serve in the military, particularly far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who was not drafted for mandatory military service by the IDF because of his extremist activities.
“There are six politicians who didn’t serve in the IDF, who the families absolutely do not want to come… 100 families have told me they won’t let Ben Gvir into the cemetery. They’ll throw eggs at him,” Ben-Shem said.
Parents have already petitioned to bar Ben Gvir, who is scheduled to speak at a ceremony in Beersheba.
“In Ra’anana, Kiryat Gat, Rehovot, families will cause disturbances [if those non-IDF-serving politicians come]… What you saw with MK Bismuth is a small taste of what’s going to happen on Memorial Day,” Ben-Shem said, referring to Bismuth being forced to leave a Holocaust memorial ceremony at a Tel Aviv synagogue after being jeered by the crowd.
Memorial Day, set to begin the evening of April 24, sees large swaths of the Israeli public visiting the graves of loved ones who have been killed in army service or terror attacks.
Many of the ceremonies at cemeteries around the country feature speeches by ministers. If the call from families is heeded, it would be the first time that politicians would be barred from speaking at the events.
Many members of bereaved military families have joined nationwide protests against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, while others support the current coalition and its legislative agenda.