Israeli state ceremonies threatened by rising tensions

Government plans to overhaul the judiciary may attract protests during Memorial Day and Independence Day

Tensions over the government’s proposed judicial overhaul are threatening to mar ceremonies next week marking Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and the country’s 75th Independence Day.

Memorial Day will take place from the evening of Monday to the evening of Tuesday. It will be followed by Independence Day, which takes place from the evening of Tuesday to the evening of Wednesday.

Both days are traditionally above politics, where national unity is the key motif, but the bitter divisions in Israel over Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government’s plans to weaken the judiciary look likely to impact next week’s ceremonies.

This week Boaz Bismuth, a parliamentarian from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, was forced to leave a synagogue Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony when anti-government protesters prevented him from speaking. Representatives of bereaved families warned that the synagogue incident would pale against what is liable to happen during Memorial Day ceremonies next week. They told defence minister Yoav Gallant that the ceremonies that will take place at military cemeteries across the country next Tuesday are likely to be disrupted if ministers and coalition politicians participate.


Some of the bereaved parents’ groups suggested that if government officials take part they shouldn’t speak. Others proposed that all coalition representatives be twinned with a member of the opposition to stress national unity.

The Public Committee for the Memory of Fallen Soldiers suggested that government ministers who had not served in the military should not attend the ceremonies. This was a reference to ministers from ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition and also to national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, from the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party, who was not drafted by the army because of his extremist views.

However, Mr Gallant said no changes would be made to the make-up of Memorial Day ceremonies at military gatherings: politicians will attend and speak as planned.

“Elected officials are a symbol. They must be present at cemeteries on Memorial Day,” he said. “The demand to exclude elected officials from cemeteries would be like a demand to fold up the Israeli flag.”

The police are also bracing for possible disruptions at the main Independence Day ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on Tuesday night, which follows Memorial Day.

Prime minister Netanyahu will record his speech in advance and all the 4,000 invitees will be searched for whistles and any item connected to the protest movement.

Transport minister Miri Regev, who is responsible for planning the Independence Day ceremony, promised zero tolerance for any disruption. Security has been beefed up to prevent sabotage to the lighting and sound equipment.

She instructed the director overseeing the broadcast of the ceremony to use the rehearsals early next week to have a pre-recorded version of the ceremony handy, and to cut to that in the event of disruptions.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said he was joining the public call to allow the Memorial Day ceremonies next week to be held peacefully, but regarding Independence Day he said: “you need to ask the government why people feel the need to protest at that event.”

Benny Gantz, a former senior general and current leader of the opposition National Unity party, called not to turn the military cemeteries into a fighting zone.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem