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Netanyahu's Rotting Regime Is to Blame for Israel's Lag Ba'omer Disaster

Only in a system led by a corrupt leader busy with his own affairs can tragedies like the stampede that killed 45 people on Thursday occur

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Collecting belongings from the scene of the disaster, yesterday morning.
Collecting belongings from the scene of the disaster, yesterday morning.Credit: Rami Shllush
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The timing of the most uncalled-for disaster in this country’s history, 100 hours before the expiration of Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate for forming a coalition, is definitive proof of the clamoring-to-the-heavens need to replace the government.

Only in a system that’s rotten to the core, led by a corrupt leader engrossed in his personal affairs, can such tragedies occur. Only a political world where leaders grovel before different sectors and factions, pandering to a variety of ultra-Orthodox spiritual leaders, can such a chaotic anomaly take shape, devoid of order or hierarchy.

And only a failed leadership, cynical and cowardly, dares not face the public (it had 18 hours to do so before Shabbat) and take responsibility for its actions or lack thereof, or even, God forbid, respond to questions.

Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, Gideon Sa’ar, Benny Gantz and all the leaders of the so-called change bloc, mainly Bennett, isn’t it more obvious than ever that this government must be kicked out? That such a long-term government is like a puddle of murky water in your backyard where bacteria grow and a foul stench wafts?

New cabinet members will take over ministries. Hopefully they’ll bring with them original ideas, not fearful or immutable ones. The new government won’t be beholden to the ultra-Orthodox parties, a fact that will inject some sanity into the veins of a clogged and rotten system. Its ministers will know how to take responsibility.

Grieving for the dead, yesterday.Credit: Gil Eliahu

October 1994 saw a failed attempt to free kidnaped soldier Nachshon Wachsman. The general staff’s elite commando unit didn't use enough explosives to break down the door of the building where he was being held, and the operation failed. Wachsman and one of the soldiers, Capt. Nir Poraz, were killed.

This happened on a Friday evening. Within the hour, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the army chief, Ehud Barak, spoke to the cameras. “I’m responsible,” Rabin said. He didn’t have to take responsibility; it was an operational mishap that wasn’t supposed to be laid at his feet. But that was Rabin, and those were the norms then.

Netanyahu – just mentioning his name in the same breath as Rabin’s is galling – chose to pose with a severe look, gazing at the scene of the disaster. He made a generic announcement and declared a national day of mourning, while canceling the weekly cabinet meeting. The whole country will work and the cabinet will suspend its work.

Meanwhile, the Balfour Street propaganda machine didn’t waste a minute. Due to the tragedy, the prime minister may ask President Reuven Rivlin for an extension to form a government.

And the messages were dispatched to their intended targets. It’s the responsibility of the High Court, recited a former politician who now comments for Channel 13. Such victim numbers have only happened since the Oslo Accords, prattled an anchor on Channel 12. Let’s not look for guilty people, we’re all brothers, said a ridiculous Bibi devotee on Channel 11’s Friday night news.

It’s a cliché, but sometimes the obvious must be stated: In any Western democracy with abundant pretensions, the people who gave their signatures and approved the event would have resigned immediately.

This includes Interior Minster Arye Dery, who along with other ultra-Orthodox politicians pushed for allowing anyone who wished to enter the area where the disaster would take place. It also includes Religious Services Minister Yaakov Avitan, who’s also from Dery’s Shas party. (Who is he anyway?) His ministry is responsible for managing Mount Meron. And the list includes Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.

An ultra-Orthodox man speaks to police at the site of the disaster, yesterday.

Incidentally, this doesn’t happen only in Western democracies. Jordan’s health minister resigned after seven people with COVID-19 died when the oxygen supply system failed at an Amman hospital. That’s what ministerial responsibility is all about.

We haven’t seen Dery or Avitan. Ohana has visited a hospital, surrounded by droves of security guards and police officers, who separated him from the reporters. On the night before the disaster, Ohana and the commissioner he appointed visited Meron for a victory lap. They were photographed smiling and thanking each other, not forgoing selfies with their admirers. It was the most blatant expression of the prevailing rot.

We didn’t hear from them Friday. Only one righteous man (who will probably live to regret it), Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi, faced the media, saying in a clear voice that as a commander he was taking responsibility.

In the coming days we’ll be inundated with earlier reports by the state comptroller, with minutes of parliamentary committees and memos by senior police officers. There were endless warnings; after all, this country lives on warnings. Everyone was right, everyone saw it coming, everyone issued a warning on time.

This mountain of words can be summarized in one tweet from three years ago by ultra-Orthodox journalist Arye Erlich: “The narrow exit path leading from the site of the torch-lighting by the Toldot Aharon Hasidim creates a bottleneck, with horrific pushing and shoving that can get people crushed. This is the only exit (!) … The torch-lighting must not be held at this site before a wider exit with signs is created.”

Erlich reported this after miraculously escaping from the festivities in 2018. You don’t need more than these few words.

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