Editorial |

Netanyahu, the Prime Minister Who Knew Too Little

Haaretz Editorial
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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the state's commission of inquiry investigating the Mt. Meron disaster.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the state's commission of inquiry investigating the Mt. Meron disaster.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

Not knowing does not spare one punishment, but according to Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s certainly grounds for not being held responsible. “You can’t take responsibility for something that you don’t know,” the current leader of the opposition claimed in testimony on Thursday, in front of the commission of inquiry investigating last year’s stampede at Mt. Meron in which 45 people were killed.

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The statement by Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster, will enter the pantheon of his scandalous comments – in addition to “There won’t be anything because there isn’t anything” and “What? What are you talking about?” Shamelessly, a man who was prime minister for 12 years and who always presented himself as involved with everything, who in his speeches was always talking about “me, me and me,” the man who appropriated every morsel of accomplishment for himself suddenly remembered that he was “only” the prime minister and didn’t understand what they wanted from him.

The commission’s chairwoman, retired Judge Dvora Berliner, presented a document from 2011 entitled “The Prime Minister’s Comments on the State Comptroller’s Report.” In the report, the state comptroller warned of dangers relating to safety at Meron. Netanyahu answered her by saying, “It was called the prime minister’s comments, but it was written by staff in the office that replies to questions.”

The fact that Netanyahu delegated replying on his behalf to office staffers does not free him from responsibility. Quite the contrary. It reveals him as someone who demonstrated no interest whatsoever in the subject.

When Berliner showed that the issue of safety at Mt. Meron repeatedly appears in state comptroller reports between 2008 and 2014, Netanyahu insisted that “the prime minister doesn’t get into these things.” Netanyahu also didn’t get excited when Berliner directed his attention to a letter that the chairwoman of the Knesset Interior Committee at the time, Miri Regev, sent to then-Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, on which Netanyahu was copied.

In the letter, Regev asked them to inform her who was responsible for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb on Mt. Meron, and warned that the failure to give any cabinet member the responsibility for Lag Ba’omer celebrations there could lead to a disaster involving large numbers of dead and injured. But Netanyahu responded by saying he doubted he received the letter. He cited the irrelevant excuse that “the prime minister is copied on hundreds and thousands of requests.”

Berliner replied: “In 2014, there’s a letter; 2015, there’s something; 2016 [Police Commissioner Roni] Alsheich; 2017 [Knesset member David] Amsalem. Time after time, there are inquiries regarding the same subject.” Netanyahu replied: “I’m not familiar [with it]. I didn’t know.”

The bitter truth is that he and the governments that he headed abandoned the revelers at Mt. Meron. They simply didn’t interest him. This is a fundamentally baseless line of defense.

Even if we accept the unfounded assumption that Netanyahu “didn’t know” despite the countless warnings that he received over the years, his role as prime minister is to know about mass events of such magnitude, and all the more so in the middle of a global pandemic. Whether he knew and did nothing, or did nothing to learn what he was required to know – he’s responsible. This is yet more evidence that Netanyahu is not fit to be prime minister.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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