Herzog, Halevi call for unity at national Remembrance Day ceremony

Smotrich wrote that anarchists and Israeli media are responsible for calls for MKs not to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies.

 President Isaac Herzog speaks at the Remembrance Day Ceremony on April 24, 2023 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at the Remembrance Day Ceremony on April 24, 2023
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

“I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters, citizens of Israel, at this sacred moment, from here, the wall of longing and tears, from which the Divine Presence has never moved, and I ask us to mourn and grieve – together; may we let that feeling of longing envelop us – together. May we let that sound of our collective pain ring loudly on this Memorial Day, free of discord, as we cry for our sons and daughters,” President Isaac Herzog said at the opening Remembrance Day ceremony at the Western Wall on Monday evening.

Herzog could have been referring to Lot 9 at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, in which fallen soldiers and fighters from all walks of Israeli life lay side by side. They include haredi yeshiva student Yosef Zvi Strauss, new immigrant from Yemen Yosef Ahrak, Jerusalem-born musician Arik Fenigstein, olim (new immigrants) from Bulgaria, Libya, France, Poland and Germany and many others.

“The cost of internal strife is heavy – very heavy,” Herzog said. “At this sacred place, where so many of our soldiers swear oaths to defend the homeland, now is the time to pledge once more. We have one army and one state. The IDF and the men and women who serve it must remain beyond all disputes.

“All of us, from all shades of this nation, must find what connects and unites us – and not only in our cemeteries. We must entrench our covenant of life, commit to the unity of Israel, to the eternity of Israel, and to the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.”

“Lot 9 and all the military cemeteries reflect to us clearly that our fallen heroes over the years – Jews, Druze, Muslims, Christians and Circassians, women and men, immigrants and native-born Israelis, from all across the land, from all beliefs, opinions and worldviews, gave their lives out of a commitment to a profound existential necessity: building together, in partnership, more and more floors of our Israeli home. We must do everything – everything – to safeguard this shared home. To argue and disagree, like always, with all the fervor and passion, but to love one another as sisters and brothers, for we are one people,” Herzog said.

 An IDF soldier salutes the grave of a fallen soldier at the Har Herzl military cemetery ahead of Israel's Remembrance Day, April 23, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) An IDF soldier salutes the grave of a fallen soldier at the Har Herzl military cemetery ahead of Israel's Remembrance Day, April 23, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi spoke at the ceremony about an officer named Avner Gaborin, a commander in the Nahal Infantry Brigade who was killed in the Sinai during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Gaborin had been a member of the Jerusalem’s Scouts, Masuot, which Halevi said he had belonged to as a child as well. Gaborin’s image, which hung on his wall, projected excellence, responsibility and personal example, he said.

“Even though he did not manage to fulfill even a small part of his life’s promise, his memory pulsates to this day in the space that he left behind,” Halevi said.

He reiterated Herzog’s call to leave politics out of Remembrance Day.

“Down the paths of bereavement and pain, I meet families from all parts of society and the whole range of opinions and beliefs,” Halevi said. “In every meeting I always found common ground. Out of our responsibility to defend the honor of the fallen, tomorrow [Tuesday] we will put the daily issues outside of the cemeteries. We will allow the families, the commanders and the soldiers to unite in their holy vow and respect the memory of the fallen.”

Haredi MKs cancel participation in memorial ceremonies

The speeches that opened the national ceremony came at the end of a day that included harsh criticism over the involvement of politics and the remembrance of Israel’s fallen soldiers.

“Professional, paid anarchists” and “bloodthirsty, biased media” were responsible for the politicization of Remembrance Day and for haredi ministers’ announcing that they would not attend ceremonies at military cemeteries, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionist Party) said Monday.

In recent days, he had heard the “offensive, arrogant, condescending, ignorant, ringing slap in the face” directed at haredi ministers and MKs, which were “blind to processes” of haredi integration into Israeli society, he wrote in a Facebook post.

There has been in recent years a “delicate process” in which haredim believed that they would be able to maintain their beliefs and way of life while increasingly becoming part of the “Jewish and Israeli social fabric,” Smotrich said. This process was evident in the haredi public’s growing awareness and respect toward Remembrance Day, he said.

Smotrich called on his “haredi brothers” to ignore what he claimed was the insult of being asked to stay away from military cemeteries.

“We are building our togetherness here, because that is what is correct, good and true,” and “no one has the right to sabotage this,” he wrote, adding that he believes ministers should insist on appearing at military cemeteries and continue to “contribute their enormous contribution to Israeli society.”

'Handful of barn-burners'

Smotrich said most of his “brothers on the Left” were “disdainful of the irresponsible and uninhibited anarchism that slaughters every remaining sacred cow.” They should make their voices heard and not allow the “extreme and violent fringe” to take over the discourse.

To his “brothers on the Right,” Smotrich wrote that for those who still believe that the protests during the past four months were related to the government’s judicial reform, it was clear now that its leaders turned it into a “destructive demonstration of hate that brings out so much evil” and to an “ugly struggle for control, power and hegemony,” whose purpose is to “force upon us the tyranny of radical minority positions.”

He said he hoped that the majority of Israeli citizens would put the “handful of barn-burners” in their “true, negligible proportions” and that the holiness of the day will be maintained, so as to avoid “irreversible damage.”

Smotrich’s post came after Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf (UTJ), Deputy Culture and Sport Minister Yaakov Tessler (UTJ) and Minister in the Education Ministry Haim Biton (Shas) on Sunday said they would not participate in their scheduled memorial ceremonies, after bereaved families had asked them to stay away.

Among the ministers and MKs who said they would refrain from appearing at cemeteries are Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan (Likud), Otmza Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel and Yesh Atid MK Orna Barbivay.

In a letter to Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of the Yad Lebanim organization, which is responsible for the ceremonies, a group of bereaved families who oppose the judicial reforms requested on April 13 that politicians stay away this year to avoid commotions that might break out.

The group calls itself “With Their Death They Commanded” – short for the phrase “with their death they commanded us life,” but also of the phrase “with their death they commanded us democracy,” which group members displayed on their signs at protests. In a meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week, Ben-Shem and representatives of other bereaved families’ organizations expressed their concerns of what they said were thousands of families. Gallant refused and said ministers and MKs represent the state, and their presence has symbolic value.

While some families were opposed to the presence of any politicians, others expressed opposition specifically to haredi ministers who did not serve in the IDF, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is scheduled to attend the memorial ceremony at Beersheba Military Cemetery on Tuesday.