Netanyahu heckled at Carmel fire memorial

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.

Clergy, Bibi urge Pollard release

More than 500 clergy signed a letter to President Obama urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

The letter was delivered a day before Prime Minister Benjanim Netanyahu reportedly sent a letter to Obama issuing a formal clemency request. Netanyahu was scheduled to read his letter Tuesday evening to a Knesset plenum discussion. 

“After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency—as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation—a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.”

The letter is the latest in a surge of pleas to free Pollard, a U.S. Navy analyst who spied for Israel and who has been in prison since 1985.

A raft of Democratic Congress members urged Obama to release Pollard late last year, and a number of officials who were involved in investigating the matter also have signed on to the effort.

Among the signatories of the letter sent this week was Rabbi Donald Levy of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs, Colo., a former Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment after Pollard’s arrest.

“There was nothing that we came across to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel,” said Levy said in a separate statement. “Further, the information he probably disclosed consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear to me at the time that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence.”

Also signing the letter were leaders of lay Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Zionist Organization of America.