JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heckled and an Israeli government minister was forced to leave a state memorial ceremony for the 44 people killed in the Carmel fire.
The relatives and friends at Wednesday’s memorial at Kibbutz Beit Oren, which sustained damage in the fire, allowed President Shimon Peres to speak but began heckling Netanyahu when he began his turn.
Bodyguards had to protect Netanyahu as some of the hecklers advanced toward the stage. The hecklers blamed Netanyahu for the fire and their relatives’ deaths.
The partner of Haifa Police Chief Ahuva Tomer, a fire victim, stood up and said that he would not let Netanyahu speak until Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas Party, who also has been blamed for the lack of firefighting preparedness, left the room, calling his presence "a slap in our face." Yishai did leave the ceremony.
"The fire that did not rest for a moment turned dozens of our families into bereaved, grieving, pained families," Peres said before the incident. "No tribute and no memorial ceremony will ever return to their loved ones.
"In those moments, when the firefighters stood in front of that wall of fire and today, as we mark 30 days since the disaster, we stand here as a shocked nation, unprepared for the disaster. This is the truth, painful though it may be: We weren’t prepared for the fire, we couldn’t imagine that this would happen. Thus the flames scorched the hearts of the families and the confidence of a nation — a nation that followed the efforts to enlist foreign aid and which cherished those efforts. Now we must learn our lessons."
Netanyahu in his speech promised that dealing with fires and other natural disasters will happen more quickly in the future.