The new cabinet convened Sunday for its first working meeting since it was sworn in last week, immediately approving an official inquiry into the stampede during an ultra-Orthodox Lag B'Omer celebration on Mount Meron that killed 45 people in April.
The four-person panel to investigate the disaster will be headed a judge and have a one-off budget of NIS 6 million for administrative costs.
"The committee will investigate the chain of events and issue findings and conclusions regarding all aspects of the event," said the government decision on the probe, which was proposed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The decision states that the commission would focus on the decision-making process that led to the approval of the event; the conditions under which the event was to be held; professional and legal questions regarding safety at mass events, including those of a religious nature; the locations used for public events, in particular those with large numbers of participants.
Two weeks after the tragedy, two people died and more than one hundred others were hurt when a stand collapsed during a mass prayer service at a makeshift synagogue in the settlement of Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem.
"Forty-five people lost their lives in this terrible disaster, and it is incumbent upon us to prevent the next disaster," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of the cabinet meeting Sunday.
"The commission will not be able to bring back those who are no longer with us but the government must do everything it can to prevent unnecessary loss of life in the future," he said.
"All sectors of society visit Meron and it is our responsibility is to guarantee their safety," Bennett said.
Gantz called the inquiry a“our moral obligation to the Israeli public and to the families who lost loved ones.”
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the Galilee on April 30 for the annual Lag B'Omer celebration that includes all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.
During the ceremony part of the crowd surged into a narrow tunnel and the 45 celebrants, including children, were asphyxiated or trampled, shocking the nation and families of victims who had come from overseas. More than 150 people were injured in the crush.
Gantz, who also held the position of justice minister in the last government, had pushed for a commission of inquiry into the tragedy at Mount Meron.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who was prime minister at the time, had promised a thorough investigation, but his cabinet, which included ultra-Orthodox ministers, never took formal action.
Some Israelis have questioned whether the former government and the police were reluctant to limit the crowd size at the site because of pressure from influential ultra-Orthodox religious leaders and politicians.
Powerful ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and lobbyists have been accused of intervening to ensure that there were no limits on crowd size at the event, despite health and safety rules and coronavirus regulations.
The government was warned more than a decade ago that overcrowding and poor planning at Lag B'Omer events on Mount Meron could end in disaster, in a scathing report by then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.
Gantz said last week the move to open an inquiry had the support of Bennett and other senior cabinet members. The prime minister is himself religiously observant but his broad coalition does not include any ultra-Orthodox parties.
Police have already launched a probe and the State Comptroller's Office has announced its own investigation, though it cannot bring criminal charges.
"It is a moral debt to the families, and no less, an important step meant to prevent such tragic events in the future," said Gantz last week.
The panel, he said, would have "extensive powers giving it the possibility to get a broad and reliable picture of the facts and events that led to the tragedy, in all aspects, to identify failures and recommend lessons for the future."
Other issues to be discussed by the cabinet on Sunday included the extension of Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi's term as IDF chief of staff and diplomatic appointments that were frozen during the previous government.
Ahead of the cabinet meeting, the ministerial committee on diplomatic appointments approved the nominations of 36 foreign envoys, all veterans of the Foreign Ministry.
First published: 11:49, 06.20.21