After mob attacks alternative Memorial Day ceremonies, Israeli education minister criticizes ceremonies not mob

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Photo: EPA/ABIR SULTAN)

Alternative Memorial Day ceremonies in Israel joining both Israelis and Palestinians have been assaulted by angry mobs – and the government is rather silent. And when Education Minister Bennett opens his mouth about it, it’s no better.

Memorial Day in Israel, which occurred last Sunday, is officially known as ‘Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism’, and is followed by Independence Day.

Just as Israeli Independence Day is a notion that stands in diametric opposition to the Palestinian Nakba, which is commemorated on the same day (and this commemoration is outlawed), so is Memorial Day a typically Zionist notion which focuses primarily on those who died and suffered on behalf of the Jewish State. If one thinks this is an extreme interpretation, let it be noted that the count of the dead starts in 1860 – almost a century before Israel’s establishment. As Gili Cohen of Haaretz notes in this year’s update for the day, “the count begins in 1860 because that is when the first Jewish neighborhood was established outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. Today it is considered the beginning of the rebirth of modern Jewish presence on the land of Israel.”

But in the past 12 years, there has been a serious attempt to offer an alternative commemoration. Two organizations joining Palestinians and Israelis – the Parents Circle – Families Forum, and Combatants for Peace, arrange alternative commemoration ceremonies, which take into account the loss on both sides – that is, also on the side that is considered “the enemy”.

Yesterday Haaretz ran a lead editorial titled “Combatants for Hate”, noting how the events (one in the north, 150 participants, one in Tel Aviv, about 4,000) were met by angry mobs. The Tel Aviv assault against the mourners was particularly virulent, with mobs shouting “Nazis,” “worthless cowards,” “seed of Amalek,” “go back to Auschwitz,” “get out of our country”. The video embedded in the article is really quite unbelievable. These protesters simply came ‘in honor’ of the fallen, whom these people supposedly desecrate, because they show empathy with the ‘other’.

225 Palestinians from the organizations, who are normally allowed entry for this purpose, were barred this time – ostensibly because of a lone-wolf Palestinian stabber who injured four in Tel-Aviv a week earlier. They marked their presence via installed screens at the ceremonies.

But the real shock is the government response – or mostly lack of it. Nonetheless, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (“I killed many Arabs”) did manage to make a little noise, in his typical cynical way.

The day after the rally, in response to a question from Nurit Canetti of Army Radio as to whether anyone on the right had denounced this assault on the ceremony’s participants, the following message (now erased) was posted on Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Twitter account:

“If the report is true, I would expect people who are mourning baby killers and bus bombers to be a little less sensitive to spitting, shoving and water.”

So, if our soldiers kill 550 children in one ‘mowing of the lawn’ in Gaza, that’s heroic. But they’re never baby killers. Indeed, our soldiers are simply “not murderers”, even Netanyahu says so. And if we bomb an ambulance, it can’t be as bad as bus bombers. After all, when we do it, it’s always ‘security’, when they do it it’s ‘terror’.

That’s the divide that the alternative events seek to bridge. But Bennett seemed to spit in their face with his tweet, and what’s wrong with a little spitting? Why so sensitive?

Apparently the Tweet was not that fortunate for Bennett’s PR anyway, so he later explained that is wasn’t really him tweeting, but rather that “one of the students” who was with him (student of what?) had tweeted the remark (and how exactly did this ‘student’ access Bennett’s account?). Bennett tried to calm the waters by conceding that the remark was “tasteless” and that the ‘student’ simply used his username. But don’t think Bennett was all apology – he complained that “now people are going wild” (about his tweet). “Relax. It’s Memorial Day today”, he said.

Yes, let’s all relax. Move along, nothing to see here. It’s just Memorial Day. Forget it.