Commemoration of Israeli Leaders Highly Disorganized, Unequal

Despite four leaders dying in the past decade, the commemoration budget hasn't risen in ten years.

Israelis at a Yitzhak Rabin memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, November 5, 2016.
Moti Milrod

The commemoration budget for Israeli prime ministers and presidents has not risen over the past decade, despite the fact that four Israeli leaders died during that period. 

Data provided in a hearing on Tuesday in the State Control Committee by Shavit Ben-Arye, director of Yad Levi Eshkol, shows that the commemoration budget for Israel’s leaders has remained 2.1 million shekels for a decade.

“The amount didn’t grow in recent years although President Yitzhak Navon, President Shimon Peres and prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon died,” said Ben-Arye. “It’s inconceivable that it has stayed the same for a decade.”

There is also discrimination in budgets among leaders. While David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin have laws and designated bodies to commemorate them, others like Eshkol, Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir are supported only by non-profits, which have to fight for resources annually. No specific organization commemorates Yitzhak Shamir, Ephraim Katzir or Ezer Weizman.

Consequently, the official bodies enjoy bigger budgets to the tune of 183 million shekels ($48.5 million), compared to 8.3 million shekels for the non-profits, according to Shaul Rehavi, chairman of the Golda Meir Memorial Association. Rehavi called for “one commemoration association that will disburse the budget equally to all.”

Yaakov Sharett, the son of the second prime minister and director of the Moshe Sharett Heritage Society, said at the hearing that because there is no law to commemorate his father, he has to fight every year for a 300,000 –shekel budget, which is not enough to enable the NPO to fulfill its mission to publish Sharett’s writings. Sharett explained that the family organization that commemorates his father is made up of people in their 80s and 90s, and they require a larger budget immediately “as long as we can work.”

The picture that arose from the hearing was one of widespread disorganization in commemorating former leaders. For example, the Begin Heritage Center uses part of its budget to commemorate Yitzhak Shamir because his family chose not to establish a non-profit to commemorate him. A representative of Yad Chaim Herzog, Nissan Limor, told the committee that he was asked to give a lecture about Herzog at the Begin Center. “It is an absurd situation,” he said. “They invited me because they have a giant budget.”

The committee’s chairperson, lawmaker Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid), concluded that there is significant inequality in the state’s allocation of resources for commemorating its former leaders.

The meeting also noted that the non-profits dedicated to commemorating former leaders have to compete for resources with other organizations. For example, Yad Levi Eshkol last year competed with another five organizations that received funding to commemorate Eshkol. “We are the body representing his memory, yet despite this we don’t get any priority when distributing the pie,” complained Ben-Arye.

Another issue is that the state has passed laws diverting even more funds to commemorating three non-national leaders: former general and minister Rehavam Zeevi, Theodor Herzl and Zeev Jabotinsky. According to a report by the Citizen’s Empowerment Center, only 600,000 shekels of the 3 million shekels allocated to the centers commemorating Herzl and Jabotinsky in 2015 were utilized.

Regarding Zeevi, who made headlines following reports about stains in his past, lawmaker Zehava Galon (Meretz), who had initiated the hearing, asked to reconsider the law commemorating him. State budget statistics indicate that the state allocated some two million shekels in 2015, and nearly 2.5 million shekels in 2014, to commemorate him.

“There is no money to commemorate others, but the state invests so much money in commemorating Gandhi,” she said, referring to Zeevi’s nickname. “We need to rethink the issue of commemoration. There is institutional discrimination,” she added. “Whoever lacks political power won’t be properly commemorated.”

Lawmaker Eitan Broshi (Zionist Union) argued: “It is improper that the Prime Minister’s Office, which is political, handles the commemoration of rival politicians. Commemoration should not be in political hands, and the proof is the results before us.”

Drorit Steinmentz, representing the commemoration council within the PMO, said that a “strategic consultant” was reviewing the council’s commemoration policy.