The Israeli “Bonfire Night” holiday turns into a national day of mourning as 45 people are crushed in the stampede whilst hundreds are transported to hospital for treatment. With this latest display of incompetence forcing his hand, Netanyahu had to wager on his career one last time.
The tragedy struck the State of Israel in the early hours of Friday, at Mount Meron on the day that was supposed to be remembered for its jovial spirit and gay feeling. It was the day to celebrate Lag B’Omer, Bonfire Night, in memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a revered historical figure for the Jewish population around the world. Traditionally, Israelis would gather together near the mausoleum of Rabbi Shimon, dancing and singing to appease the soul of the departed who is believed to answer the prayers of the righteous pleading to him on this special day. At least that was what has been happening for the past years and should have happened this time as well. Things went wrong however this time around.
This year’s celebration hosted more than 100,000 but unlike the previous years, this year there was a call from ultra-orthodox communities, prompting their followers to gather at Mount Meron, as a sign of strength and solidarity. As expected, things suddenly got out of hand when ultra-orthodox got excited and started hopping up and down. The structures holding the place together eventually collapsed and people started slipping down and right on top of each other. In a blink of an eye, all hell broke loose and people suddenly rushed to the exit without having the least regard for their compatriots. Stampede had happened. When the dust settled, 45 attendees had lost their lives whilst more than a 150 were being transported to hospital for serious injuries they had suffered because of the stampede.
This disaster could not have come at a worse time for Israel’s Prime Minister. For the fourth time in just two years, Netanyahu lost another election. Not only that, he has refused to show compromise in order to form a coalition. He is charged with bribery, fraud and money laundering. His trial is currently underway and he is nowhere prepared for it. At the same time his nemesis, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is on the verge of reviving the nuclear deal which would threaten his diplomatic achievements as well. As bad as it might sound, the recent disaster is also directly related to Netanyahu’s desperation. Simply said, it has a lot to do with Benjamin Netanyahu desperately trying to win over the ultra-orthodox religious communities by appeasing them at every turn.
In his bid for reelection, instead of reaching an understanding with opposition or even the Arab-Israelis who had displayed eagerness, Netanyahu decided to put his faith in ultra-orthodox community. From his pleas to coerce them into vaccinating themselves to his refusal to take responsibility for Lehava’s actions not so long ago, Netanyahu was hell-bent on remaining in the good graces of Israel’s Haredi and Hasidic leaders. Because of that, Netanyahu refused to assert the government’s control over Mount Meron these past years, leaving it completely under the control of different factions, all ultra-orthodox yet unwilling to cooperate with each other. Interestingly enough, Mount Meron is currently known as the second-most visited Jewish holy site after the Western Wall, making it highly irregular to be solely controlled by one religious minority group.
In any case, it appears for the moment that the situation has finally forced Netanyahu’s hands, promoting him to offer his protégé/rival Naftali Bennett a chance to form a coalition government in exchange for legal protection. The news came out today implying that Netanyahu and Bennett held a secret meeting just after the representatives from Likud’s rival party Yesh Atid decided to approach Yamina, Bennett’s political party, in a bid to bring an end to Netanyahu’s leadership while his being pressed because of the incident at Mount Meron. Bennett has remained silent whilst his party has denied the meeting outright. Still, considering the precarious situation he is facing right now, Netanyahu needed to bet high on his latest gamble. It remains to be seen whether it pays off or not though.