The commander of the northern police district, Maj. Gen. Shimon Lavi, submitted a letter of resignation this week following his involvement in last year’s Mount Meron disaster in which 45 people were crushed to death in a stampede at the overcrowded complex at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai.
Even though Lavi only submitted his resignation a year after facing the media and accepting responsibility for the disaster and just before warning letters were expected to be sent to those involved in the incident – it’s no small thing for a senior commander to take responsibility and resign. But there are many people responsible for the disaster, and unlike Lavi, it appears that the act of taking responsibility is foreign to them.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time of the incident, is expected to testify on Thursday before the state commission of inquiry that was established on the matter. For years, a large number of officials had warned Netanyahu of an impending disaster on the mountain, but according to several of the witnesses, he nevertheless pressed to hold the annual celebration last year.
Netanyahu is not the only one evading responsibility. So is Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and then-Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who were both caught on camera just hours prior to the stampede arrogantly looking at the crowds streaming to the festivities, knowing full well that the writing was on the wall.
According to evidence provided to the commission, Ohana and Shabtai were aware of the many dangers in holding the event, the fact that the site was not prepared to hold hundreds of thousands of people and that death from a stampede was just a matter of time – but they did nothing to prevent it. No less serious was the fact that after the disaster, Ohana and Shabtai did everything they could to obscure their failures.
To this day, Shabtai refuses to take responsibility for his part in the calamity. He apparently learned from the man who appointed him to his position, Ohana, who invented the idea of being “responsible but not to blame.” Although the two held meetings and were involved in preparations for the festivities, they preferred that the district commander, Lavi, bear all the responsibility and the blame.
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Instead of serving as a personal example to the entire Israel Police, underlining the importance of taking command responsibility in tragic cases such as the one at Meron, Shabtai demonstrated the exact opposite: He shifted responsibility to a subordinate, so that he himself could remain in his position.
In the process, he appears to be fulfilling the main legacy that Ohana left behind at the Public Security Ministry. Through their conduct, Shabtai and Ohana represent hollow leadership. One would hope that the state commission of inquiry will force them to take responsibility.