For many in Israel, the annual Remembrance Day for the fallen soldiers of the IDF is the holiest day of the year. Religious and secular and even for many of the ultra-Orthodox community there is a sanctity that is unique.
Research carried out by Pnima found that two thirds of Israelis know personally (family or friend) someone who died in service or through terror. #IsraeliJudaism’s author Shmuel Rosner describes how Remembrance Day uniquely unites the entire Jewish population in solemnity and sadness.
It is also one of the unique moments when the political cacophony stops, replaced by a deep silence. Families of the fallen have a special place in the hearts of citizens from across the political spectrum, and there is an unwritten rule placing them at the top of our social hierarchy due to the ultimate sacrifice of their loved ones. In many ways Remembrance Day is a testament to the covenant of fate uniting Israelis in times of trouble from the founding of the state.
All of this is now in danger. The last bastion of consensus is under threat, and just the debate around how concerned people are is itself a testimony to it having been desecrated.
Public calls to keep politics out of it
In recent weeks, various public figures have spoken out, driven by the need to protect the day from being forever tarnished by the raging political and public battle over the judicial reforms.
Veteran journalist Menachem Horowitz penned a column a month ahead of Remembrance Day. He wrote: “The Israeli government should consider canceling the state events of Remembrance Day and Independence Day this year.” The religious equivalent would be to cancel Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He writes of his deep concern that every song chosen and every word of every speech will be scrutinized based on the highly charged public atmosphere.
He is so concerned about Remembrance Day becoming politicized that even the waving of the Israeli flag could be considered a provocation. His concern is that this will lead to shouting and even to violence itself, God forbid, between families of the fallen on different sides of the political divide. “Events like this could be no less than a promo to a civil war.”
“The Israeli government should consider canceling the state events of Remembrance Day and Independence Day this year.”Menachem Horowitz
Makor Rishon columnist Yair Sheleg calls for all national politicians to abstain from attending the ceremonies. Calling out politicians from across all the camps in his column he does not mince words – “Warmongers, we have had enough! The public is disgusted with you.” Critiquing Horowitz’s idea, he claims that canceling the official ceremonies would reward the aggressive and shallow culture that the politicians are responsible for and the toxic atmosphere that has pushed us towards a societal boiling point, and a collective punishment for Israelis, in particular the families of the fallen.
He makes clear that the responsibility of politicians will be to minimize controversy, and the same for the leaders of the protest movement. But with no sign of a political breakthrough, he realizes that the temptation will be too great.
Understandably, Sheleg has low expectations of the politicians sitting it out, but he does make a request of them: “If you are unable to honor the sacrifice of the thousands of martyrs who fell for the country during the year – at least spare us the clichés about your commitment to their memory, and the need to be worthy of their sacrifice, on Remembrance Day.”
Mother of Israeli grief
Miriam Peretz is the nation’s best-known mother of fallen soldiers, having lost two sons herself defending the country. She has become the unofficial voice of Israeli grief and has dedicated her life to telling the story of her loss and how she turned it into a “new melody” with her own words. Upon receiving the Israel Prize, she said, “With that heart, I came to my nation, and in simple words, in the language of a broken heart, I spoke of this land and its legacy, of choosing goodness, of happiness, of devotion to life, of responsibility, of social involvement, and out of that heart which beats with faith in this country and this nation, out of the great depth of pain flowed springs of love.”
But Miriam is deeply worried. Worried that this most holy of Israeli days, that she believes so deeply represents the deepest bonds that keep us together, is at risk of tearing us apart. In a heartfelt column in Yediot Ahronot, she addresses the nation, her people, and literally begs everyone to keep Remembrance Day out of the political chaos. Like many, she believes that the fraying of this day will be too hard a blow with lasting consequences for our most basic sense of solidarity.
Families of the fallen
Days before Passover, several hundred families of fallen soldiers wrote to Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, MKs and cabinet ministers. In their letter, they describe the difference between their personal grief and the collective national grief that they did not choose to carry but was thrust upon them, and that Remembrance Day is the one day in the year that “combines together the memories of every fallen soldier and victim of terror into the ‘silver tray’ upon which the state was founded.” They beg to keep “politics out of the cemeteries, and keep the cemeteries out of politics.” They make clear that their call is to politicians from all sides, government and opposition.
Of course, this letter was signed by several hundred families, and the risk will now be that others of the ten of thousands of families of Israel’s fallen will start writing letters with different opinions. Indeed, within 24 hours, there was a response to this letter from Didi Dickshtein, who lost multiple family members in a horrific terror attack. Simply put, he said, “It is the demand to keep the politicians away from the state ceremonies that undermines Remembrance Day, which is holy for us and all the citizens of Israel.”
The very politics that they want to keep out of the day of national grief will become the politics of national grief. Just this is too painful to consider.
The damage is already done
The very fact that grieving families, Horowitz, Peretz and Sheleg feel the need to write in such dramatic terms means that we have already managed to cause serious damage to one of the foundational elements of our joint Israeli ethos – that we respect the fallen and their families, because of the ultimate sacrifice they have made, placing it above politics itself.
The fact that this taboo is already on the verge of being broken is a worrying sign that the unwritten contract between Israeli society and those that risk their lives to protect it is under lethal attack.
I urge politicians and protesters alike to take 24 hours off from the raging arguments of the last three months. When this is all over we will have to rebuild our national ethos and rededicate the covenantal bonds between us.
Trashing Remembrance Day may just be one tear too far.
The writer is a founding partner of Goldrock Capital and the founder of The Institute for Jewish and Zionist Research. He was a founding chair of the Coalition for Haredi Employment and is a former chair of Gesher and World Bnei Akiva.