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Israel: Opposition pressures Netanyahu over 2021 stampede

March 6, 2024

An independent commission found Benjamin Netanyahu "responsible" for failing to act ahead of the 2021 stampede that killed 45 people.

Benjamin Netanyahu sits behind a microphone during a cabinet meeting
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wasn't responsible for safety measures at the site during a testimony before the committee last yearImage: Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images

An independent Israeli commission investigating a deadly stampede at a religious festival in 2021 said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials shared responsibility for the disaster. Netanyahu was prime minister between 2009 to 2021 before returning to power in late 2022.

The committee said officials like Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, who served as public security minister at the time, bore some of the responsibility.

But the commission, which was formed in 2021 by the Bennett-Lapid government, was scathing in its criticism of Netanyahu.

"Netanyahu knew that the Rashbi's tomb site had been poorly cared for for years and that this could create a risk for the multitudes of visitors to the place, especially in Lag BaOmer," the report said.

"Netanyahu did not act as expected of a prime minister to correct this state of affairs," the investigators said.

The commission did not recommend any measures against the politician.

Opposition leader calls for Netanyahu to resign

Forty-five people died in a deadly stampede at the religious festival at Mount Meron in April 2021, which was attended by some 100,000 mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews.

It was the worst civilian disaster in Israel's history and came amid longstanding warnings about safety and overcrowding at the site. 

Festivities in Mount Meron, 2021
Hundreds of thousands of people sing and dance on the festival of Lag BaOmerImage: Jalaa Marey/AFP

Israel opposition leader Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to resign, warning on X, formerly known as Twitter, that "the next disaster is only a matter of time."

"If Netanyahu stays in his position, then we're just sitting here and waiting for the next disaster," Lapid wrote.

The holiday of Lag BaOmer is one of the happiest days on the calendar for Israel's ultra-Orthodox community — a time of mass celebrations in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The burial site of the revered sage draws more than a million visitors each year.  

rm/dj (AFP, AP)