Political leaders paid tribute to former prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin on the 19th anniversary of his assassination Wednesday.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) spoke at the Knesset of Rabin’s “values of democracy, security, peace, economic growth, and building a Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.”
Herzog, who was a political adviser to Rabin, lamented that his values and those of the Labor Party have been abandoned, especially during this government’s tenure, and said the time has come to restore them.
According to Herzog, Rabin believed Israel is the “national home of the Jewish people,” with home meaning security, belonging, and warmth. The opposition leader challenged the government, saying that Israeli children do not feel safe today.
Herzog praised Rabin’s socio-economic achievements, building new schools and neighborhoods around the country.
He also said Rabin built hundreds of thousands of homes as prime minister, including in Jerusalem, without making political declarations about them.
“Rabin dealt with a violent intifada like the one we see today...He would say to all of us: There is no war on terrorism without diplomatic negotiations at the same time,” Herzog stated.
The opposition leader also pointed out that Rabin had good relations with the US, as opposed to the current government.
“We are waiting for an Israeli leader who will bring an agreement to separate us from the Palestinians. We are here forever, and they will be there, close, but far. For such a move, we need a courageous leader. Therefore, Israel needs a leader who unites and can make difficult, historic decisions, not someone who prefers to escape to fear and fear-mongering,” Herzog concluded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused much of his speeches Wednesday on the terrorist attack in Jerusalem, speaking of Rabin’s dedication to the city as the united capital of the Jewish people.
At the memorial on Mount Herzl, Netanyahu praised Rabin as a leader who “understood the centrality of Israel’s security” and lamented “the terrible, historic trauma” of his assassination 19 years ago.
In his remarks, the premier said that “there has been no change in Palestinian society toward acceptance of the Jewish people’s right to its own state.”
Speaking at the Knesset, Netanyahu called Rabin’s assassination a low point in Israeli history and a personal and national tragedy.
“There always were and will be disagreements. There is no democracy without real debate, but on the condition that the borders are protected, that freedom of expression is not taken advantage of for evil, and that no one kills his brother in its name,” Netanyahu said. President Reuven Rivlin spoke prior to Netanyahu at Rabin’s grave, calling for the former prime minister’s memory to inspire unity in Israel.
Describing the aftermath of Rabin’s assassination, he said “the peace camp laid upon the ‘opponents of Oslo’ a collective guilt, while the ‘opponents of Oslo’ accused the ‘peace camp’ of the same, in an attempt to silence the legitimate debates on Rabin’s policies.
Today, Rabin’s memory must “alert Israeli society to the dangers of political violence” and the anniversary of his death must remind of “the need to safeguard our democracy and to trust the common rules of practice” when Israel faces challenges in the future.
“Friends, it is 19 years since the murder, and I believe that the opportunity to mold the content and meaning of this day for future generations still remains,” he stated. “Let us bequeath to future generations, not just our differences, not only the dry understandings between us, but also a language to speak with each other.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, like Netanyahu and Rivlin, focused on the need for civil political discourse.
“In recent years, we felt that the public atmosphere improved and we were able to focus real discourse on the meaning of political disagreements, democracy and the limits of protests, but, unfortunately, the events of recent weeks proved otherwise,” Edelstein said.
In the 19 years since Rabin was assassinated, not everyone learned to respect others, and there is a constant state of incitement and violence, the Knesset Speaker stated.
“Unfortunately, I am not the only one who thinks the next hate crime is only a matter of time. I say this with a heavy heart, mixed with strong hope that it is not true,” he said.
According to Edelstein, some say it is not possible to have respectful political debate in Israel.
“Only a totalitarian regime like the one in which I grew up [the USSR] does the government try to dictate to citizens what and how to think. Can we stay united as citizens even with deep disputes? I think this is both possible and necessary,” Edelstein said.Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.