Around 15,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to mark the 17th anniversary of the death of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, gunned down by an assassin following a rally in the same square on November 4, 1995.
This year’s event was held beneath banners with the slogan “Remembering the murder – struggling for the democracy,” and focused on preserving Israel’s democracy and condemning “price-tag” attacks as well as other forms of political violence.
Uri Matuki of Dror Yisrael, one of the organizers of the rally, said the slogan was chosen earlier in the year, long before the unity deal between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu was announced on Thursday night. The deal will unite Israel’s largest right-wing party with Yisrael Beytenu, the party that advanced many of what some call “anti-democratic” bills in the current Knesset.
“We believe that 17 years after the murder, the lesson has not been learned. That is, that there are limits to what a democracy can accept. It’s okay to argue, to fight about things, but decisions must always be made at the ballot box, and not through violence,” Makuti said.
He added that in some ways public discourse and democracy were “in a worse place than they were 17 years ago.”
The crowd on Saturday was dominated by teenage members of the Noar Ha’oved Ve’halomed and Hashomer Hatzair youth movements, bused in from branches around the country and clad in their trademark blue shirts.
As at every year’s memorial rally, there were numerous signs and T-shirts for left-wing parties and movements, while those of the right-wing were absent. The rally also drew a large number of “tent protest” activists.
A video shown during the rally, while the crowd was called to stand to attention in memory of Rabin, featured right-wing demonstrations in the months proceeding his assassination, including the rally in Jerusalem’s Zion Square when Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, then in the opposition, stood above a crowd in which many shouted, “Rabin is a traitor” and some held pictures of him in a kaffiyeh or wearing SS garb.
The video also showed a series of shots of price-tag attacks on Arabs and Israelis over the past year, appearing to draw a link between the events leading up to the assassination and those of today.
Oded Hon, a 70-year-old resident of Tel Aviv, drew a fair amount of attention on Saturday night, walking through the crowd with a sign that read, “The right-wing murdered democracy.”
Hon said he comes to the rally each year, but this is the first time he had brought a sign.
When asked why, he said, “Things have gotten out of hand the past year. If people don’t speak out and take action, this government will continue to take more and more of their rights away.”
When asked if the sign had anything to do with the Likud- Yisrael Beytenu deal announced last week, Hon said the unity deal was just another sign of where the government was heading, and that soon the public could expect more “antidemocratic” laws, such as those pushed forward in the current Knesset by Yisrael Beytenu and the Likud.
Rabbi Danny Hershberg, head of the Bnei Akiva national-religious youth movement, spoke at Saturday’s rally. He called the Rabin murder a low point in the history of the Jewish people.
Hershberg issued a call for brotherhood between the secular- Zionist Left and national-religious Zionism.
Hershberg also criticized pricetag operations carried out by settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank and Arabs in Israel, and criticized “those who throw rocks at IDF soldiers, not only at [West Bank] outposts, but also at [left-wing protests against the West Bank security barrier in] Bil’in.”
Members of the Bnei Akiva movement lashed out at Hershberg over his agreement to speak at the rally.
In a letter to Hershberg, Pinchas Michaeli, the head of the Bnei Akiva branch in the Itamar settlement, wrote of “the deep shock and sadness” caused in the movement by Hershberg’s decision, adding that “Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister worked, advanced and strove to create an Arab entity which works tirelessly to destroy the State of Israel.”
“There is no place whatsoever, even out of a desire to feel part of the Jewish people, to take part in a ceremony where they glorify the name, work and legacy of someone who left only one legacy: national defeatism and the sacrifice of the ‘victims of peace’ on the altar of Oslo,” he added.
Hershberg wrote in response to the letter, “The reason for the ceremony is [Rabin’s] murder, but the topic is how to manage dispute within society, along with an unequivocal call to struggle for the preservation of democracy.”
Other speakers included former education minister and Labor MK Yuli Tamir, Rabbi Avi Gisser of the West Bank settlement of Ofra, and poet Haim Gouri.
Saturday’s rally came two days after the NGO, November Fourth (the date of Rabin’s murder on the Gregorian calendar), decided to cancel the memorial rally it had scheduled for November 3, largely due to a desire to avoid friction with the organizers of Saturday’s rally.