Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given testimony on Thursday to the official commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster. As such, he is the most senior official to have testified before the commission to date.
Netanyahu related to former Supreme Court President Devora Berliner, the commission's head, and its other two members, how he had been unaware of the specific safety issues at the site in advance of Lag b'Omer a year ago.
"Of course I knew there was overcrowding, but that was the case every year over the past decade," Netanyahu said. "Yes, I knew that around 400 thousand people would be there, but I did not know that this posed a problem in terms of safety.
"I did not involve myself in the preparations," he added. "There are large events being held all the time, and safety incidents also occur from time to time. But the prime minister is not usually personally involved in such matters, unless a specific question related to health and safety arises."
Judge Berliner did not conceal her amazement at Netanyahu's response. "You insist that you were not aware of the problems, and I accept that," she said. "But it does not make any sense whatsoever that no one brought the problems to your attention."
"Perhaps some kind of automated system should be adopted in government, one that synchronizes information between the various departments and the Prime Minister's Office," the former Prime Minister replied. "But right now, such a system does not exist; there's no pooled information on health and safety warnings."
Meanwhile, Kan News has revealed the existence of a document prepared for Netanyahu's signature which, ultimately, was not signed by the former premier. The report also alleged that it was specifically Netanyahu's close associates, then-Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and then-Interior Minister Aryeh Deri who interfered with the proceedings.
Previous accounts of the events leading up to and including that fateful night have suggested that pressure from haredi policians was responsible for ensuring that Netanyahu permitted hundreds of thousands of people to travel to Meron for the Lag b'Omer festivities -- as they indeed had done in previous years, barring the year before the disaster when the country was in lockdown. This, despite the fact that at the time, only a hundred people were permitted to gather in open-air spaces. Bending the rules in this way would ordinarily have required official steps to be taken, but Netanyahu did not convene the coronavirus cabinet or his own government's ministers, nor did he sign to authorize the new regulations.
Various legal experts commenting on the commission of inquiry's proceedings have suggested that the fact that the government allowed the Lag b'Omer events to go ahead in contravention of the coronavirus restrictions then in place could open Netanyahu to criminal prosecution, especially given the tragic results.
The Likud party which Netanyahu heads issued a statement in response: "This is fake news and a deceptive presentation designed to mislead. The regulations concerned were never authorized by the coronavirus cabinet and did not come into force, nor were they authorized by the Attorney-General, which is why they were not brought before the Prime Minister for his signature."