Israeli government ministers humiliated on ‘Defence Force Memorial Day’

Israeli reserve duty veteran soldiers protesting against judicial reforms, in February 2023 (Photo: Nizzan Cohen/Wikimedia Commons)

Government ministers were heckled by bereaved parents in memorial services in military cemeteries, up and down the country, on Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers. This is an annual event commemorating the memory of IDF soldiers who have been killed in Israel’s many wars. The CWI and socialists stand in opposition to the brutal repression of the Israeli state against the Palestinian people. However, the events which took place are extremely significant and reflect the historic polarisation and divisions which have opened in Israeli society.

Memorial Day is always a very solemn event, with entertainment venues closed, sad music broadcast on all radio channels, and ceremonies in military cemeteries around the country. But this year’s event is happening in the midst of the greatest split in Israeli society. Netanyahu and his ministers are under siege – heckled by protesters at every public appearance. Netanyahu has tried to escape the protests, cancelling key public engagements, and making unnecessary trips to Rome, Berlin and London. Abroad, he is confronted by demonstrations of Israeli expatriates, and local Jewish community members, protesting against the anti-democratic actions of his ultra-right government.

The official capitalist leaders of the opposition – Yair Lapid and Benny Ganz  – joined Netanyahu in urging Israelis to put aside deep divisions for a single day “in honour of Memorial Day”. They issued a joint statement saying: “We must not violate the sanctity of Memorial Day. It is a day when disputes are silenced and we make room for pain and memory … [When standing] above the graves of our loved ones, we are all brothers.”

But bereaved parents were not prepared to accept this. One bereaved father told journalists: “For some time now, I’ve been getting called a ‘terrorist’ and an ‘anarchist’ by members of the government, and suddenly, the week before Memorial Day, they start calling me a ‘brother’ – a ‘brother’ with an expiration date, though”.

They demanded that government ministers stay away from the ceremonies. Some ministers complied and cancelled their appearances. But the ultra-nationalist national security minister, Ittamar Ben Gvir, insisted on speaking at the ceremony in Beer Shevah – a right-wing stronghold, where he was heckled by bereaved parents, who shouted: “You don’t deserve to be here. You are not a fighter, you are a fascist.” This referred to the fact that Ben-Gvir, like many government ministers, did not serve in the IDF. Physical fights broke out in the cemetery between his supporters and opponents.

In the Druze town of Isfiya, demonstrators blocked the road approaching the cemetery, preventing Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel from attending the ceremony. Unlike most Arabs, the Druze enlist in the IDF, with a large proportion becoming career soldiers, often serving in the most dangerous areas, and suffering disproportionate casualties. In elections, 90% vote for Jewish parties, and in the national conflict, they usually side with the Israeli state. A demonstration against government ministers in Isfiya is unprecedented!

Commemoration of all the dead

Significantly a 15,000-strong commemoration of all the dead – both Israeli and Palestinian – took place in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv, calling for peace, justice and independence for both nations.

Memorial Day – traditionally a day of “National Unity” – has shown the chasm which has opened up in Israeli society. Netanyahu’s coalition has a small majority in the Knesset. On the streets, they are under siege – heckled in the streets, and at every public appearance by angry protesters. But this mighty movement lacks a programme and worthy leadership. The main “leaders” of the opposition – Yair Lapid and Benny Ganz – support capitalism and have over the last month disappeared from the demonstrations. They are now involved in negotiations with Netanyahu, which could lead to them entering a National Unity government and attempting to demobilize the protest movement. The demands of the movement – to scrap the judicial reform and now to institute a Constitution – are totally inadequate and need to be built upon.

The defence of democracy means replacing the capitalist system, which is undermining it in Israel and internationally. The capitalist politicians, who increasingly can only maintain a base by inciting racist nationalist division, cannot be trusted. The protest movement must not be a battering ram for the supposedly liberal wing of the capitalists. It needs its own independent democratic leadership, and its own party, based on the power and the collective interests of the working class that can offer a way forward and defend the democratic and national rights of all, Israelis and Palestinians.


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April 2023