Netanyahu is responsible for the 45 Meron deaths. Here is why - analysis

The tragic event was predictable not only because professional reports had said the writing was on the wall for such a disaster for nearly two decades, but because of Israel’s political dynamics.

Ultra-orthodox Jews light candles for the 45 victims who were killed in a stampede, at the scene of the fatal disaster, at Mt Meron. May 01, 2021. (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Ultra-orthodox Jews light candles for the 45 victims who were killed in a stampede, at the scene of the fatal disaster, at Mt Meron. May 01, 2021.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for the deaths of 45 people at Mount Meron on Thursday night – and of thousands of people during the COVID-19 pandemic – due to his political pandering to the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), analysts told The Jerusalem Post.
Some 100,000 Israelis, mostly ultra-Orthodox, attended this year’s Lag Ba’omer gathering on Mount Meron, despite Health Ministry warnings that the event could lead to a resurgence of the virus. The crowd was so large and unruly that police said they could not make people obey COVID restrictions – ultimately the least of their challenges.
The size of the mass gathering was reportedly the result of pressure by haredi politicians on Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who agreed to lift the restrictions.
The catastrophe was predictable not only because professional reports had said the writing was on the wall for nearly two decades, but because of Israel’s political dynamics.
“Professional considerations are only taken into account until they come up against political considerations,” stressed Israel Democracy Institute president Yohanan Plesner, a former Kadima MK who tried to pass legislation to draft haredim into the IDF.
He told the Post that although the ultra-Orthodox represent a minority of the population, they represent the most significant political force, especially today given Netanyahu’s reliance on them to keep him in power.
“It is not like Netanyahu sat down and said, ‘I don’t mind if people die,’” Plesner said. “Rather, whenever their unequivocal demands came up, his tendency was to succumb to them.” The rest of the players in the system – police officers and others, adjusted themselves accordingly.
Meron was no exception – and it came at a very dear cost, he said.
To be fair, the prime minister did not invent the idea of the state institutions capitulating to the needs and interests of the haredim. In most of the past 44 years, haredim have been in every single coalition, and that has meant changing national priorities in their favor. But Netanyahu magnified and fine-tuned this trend.
“To quote President Harry S. Truman: ‘The buck stops here,’” said Prof. Dan Ben-David. “And the buck has been stopping with Netanyahu for the last 12 years even if he won’t accept it.”
The president and founder of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, Ben-David said that Netanyahu appointed the ministers and approved their appointments of senior staff, so he is therefore at least indirectly responsible for everything that happens in Israel.
“When you have been sitting in power for 12 years and you are as smart and able as Netanyahu, this country could have looked vastly different at this juncture,” Ben-David said.
 “Instead, it has not been changed, but the prime minister has dug a hole from which it will be extremely difficult to emerge. Trying to overturn this state-within-a-state could lead to riots in the streets today and could one day become impossible [to deal with],” he said.
Israel saw the results of trying to enforce rules against the haredim during the COVID pandemic.
In September, when the coronavirus was surging across the country, Netanyahu said that allowing Israelis to travel to Uman in the Ukraine on Rosh Hashanah could lead to a spike in infections and they should not go, as recommended by his self-selected coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
But the next day, amid pressure from the haredim, the prime minister said he would ensure that at least some of these Israelis could gather at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
Ultimately, some 30,000 pilgrims traveled to Ukraine, bringing plane loads of sick people back to Israel – most of whom then defied mandatory quarantine requirements, spreading the disease in their own communities and then to the rest of the country.
In October, it took the government several weeks to pass Gamzu’s traffic light plan because it was understood that the differentiated model would shut down mostly haredi cities. Within days of its passing, the government retracted its decision to shut down any cities.
Instead, amid extreme pressure from the haredi parties, it approved imposing only night curfews on 40 red cities. Then, less than a week later, the government voted to lock down the entire country for at least three weeks, lest they upset the ultra-Orthodox.
Some haredim kept their schools open with little enforcement of the rules, while the rest of the country’s children were forced to learn on Zoom.
The entire country stayed closed longer than it had to because of haredi defiance. But they suffered too: around one in 100 haredim over 60 died of COVID-19, Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, told the Post. He said that among the general public, closer to 1 in 350 people in that age group died of the disease – about a third as many, proportionally.
The Shomrim organization published an even more acute report in February, showing that one in 73 haredim over the age of 65 had died of COVID in the past year – a total of 675 haredim died since the start of the pandemic, according to the Health Ministry.
Since the Meron tragedy, it has surfaced that as early as 2008, professionals had been warning that a disaster was waiting to happen on the mountain. But some have argued that when professionals presented their recommendations, they were either stalled or concealed by politicians.
However, according to Likud sources, in 2011, the state asked to take control of the site in order to correct its long-standing safety problems and manage the annual Lag Ba’omer event properly. That move was appealed by the religious nonprofits that controlled the site since the Ottoman era. The Supreme Court issued an injunction that halted the government’s efforts. By 2015, a compromise was reached that gave the nonprofits three years to make changes that were never made.
Sources in Likud said that the accusations that Netanyahu gave into the ultra-Orthodox were irrelevant to the Meron tragedy.
The 45 people who died at Meron were also haredim.
“It is one thing after the other,” said Ben-David, “it points to a much larger picture – and the long-term implications are only bad.”

THE HAREDI population continues to grow, he said. Haredim make up 3% of people aged 75-79, 6% of 50–54-year-olds, 13% of those aged 25-29 and 23% of those born in the past four years.
With their schools refusing to teach the core curriculum, analysts suggest that haredi children will not have the knowledge and skills to navigate modern society, impacting Israel’s ability to compete in a global economy.
“Their lack of education will bring them down – and the rest of us along with them,” Ben-David said.
The Bank of Israel and Finance Ministry professionals have only just started putting these predictions down on paper because they have been so intimidated by the politicians. But even as reports surface, Israel’s leaders continue to turn a blind eye.
“Some of the haredi politicians do not understand that when they are advocating for more special regulations and more flexibility, they are harming their own population,” Dr. Yizhar Hess, vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization, told the Post. “On the other hand, the government has allowed it. One side pushes, but the other side has to decide what to accept and what cannot be accepted.”
Netanyahu’s chances of forming a coalition are quickly waning. He has no hope of creating a government without the haredim, so he is willing to mortgage Israel’s future for short-term political convenience.
It may work for Netanyahu politically, but it does not work for the State of Israel.
It certainly did not work for the 45 haredim who lost their lives on Thursday night.