On Thursday, former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before the state commission of inquiry that is investigating the disaster last year at Mount Meron. During a religious pilgrimage, a deadly crush had taken the lives of 45 people. In his testimony, Netanyahu claimed that he was not aware that the annual event had any such critical safety risks.
The incident occurred in April 2021 in northern Israel at the religious festival and was Israel’s deadliest civilian disaster in its entire history. The festivities were attended by almost 100,000 worshippers, who comprised of ultra-orthodox Jews, for the most part. Warnings about the site’s safety had already been issued earlier.
According to multiple media reports, ultra-Orthodox political allies had put pressure on Netanyahu to give approval for the event and not impose a limit on the number of attendees, even though police had concerns regarding the safety of the crowd.
Since the COVID-19 restrictions had still been effect at that time, it meant that outdoor gatherings could not have more than 100 people. This meant that the government had to give special approval for the Mount Meron Lag B’Omer event to allow more people to attend.
Shlomo Yania of the commission asked Netanyahu directly if he took moral and public responsibility for the deadly disaster because of his position as the prime minister. Netanyahu responded that he could only take responsibility for the epidemiological disaster that was in front of him and not for the catastrophe because he didn’t know that a critical safety problem existed.
He informed the panel that every year that he had been in office, the Lab B’Omer pilgrimage had happened at Mount Meron and hundreds of thousands of people had attended it. He said that the important thing to ask was the difference in that year and the rest.
He also added that mass gatherings are required at many events and the involvement of the prime minister is only needed if there are any special considerations regarding health and security. He said that he hadn’t been involved in the considerations of the risks and only established the mechanism for deciding what was to be done at the event.
Dvora Berliner, former justice and committee head, asked the former premier a number of questions and also challenged him to explain why the safety issues at Mount Meron had not been addressed during the 12 years that he had been in office. Berliner said that the subject had been raised several times, but nothing had been done about it.
Netanyahu rejected this claim and said that more had been done in his governments than any other. He said that they had followed the state comptroller’s recommendations for dealing with the issue. He added that he had taken the decisions necessary for dealing with the numerous problems. Netanyahu also said that a premier cannot handle all of the safety issues and has to choose a professional authority and provide it the tools for solving problems.