Just before the November 1995 assassination of prime minister and Oslo Accord signatory Yitzhak Rabin, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a pesky teen provocateur for the radical Right, stood before journalists and gleefully held up what he said had been the Cadillac emblem on the prime minister’s car. With the smirk that was (and still is) so common among his Kahanist compatriots, Ben-Gvir said something to the effect that if he had been able to get to Rabin’s limo, he would be able to get to Rabin.
Last week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon went to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The visit came just a few days after his decision to abide by a High Court ruling and demolish two structures being built by settlers on Palestinian-owned land near Ramallah. In an act eerily reminiscent of the teenage pre-assassination stunt, Baruch Marzel, one of Ben-Gvir’s compatriots (then and now), hurled himself at the defense minister’s car.
“You are an enemy of the settlement movement,” Marzel, a Hebron resident, shrieked in the direction of Ya’alon’s receding vehicle as he was taken into custody.
“You are tough against Jews but weak against Arabs!” I write “eerily reminiscent” not just because of the bit about the cars, but because the incident followed close on the heels of spoken and written insults, doctored images involving Nazi and Arab garb, and outright threats of physical harm. All had featured prominently in the weeks and days leading up to the slaying of Yitzhak Rabin. Now it was being directed at President Reuven Rivlin.
BACK WHEN Rivlin was running, I wrote that the presidency was “a kind of consolation prize” for politicians who were nearing the end of their careers and were still “not exactly ready for prime (ministerial) time.” Rivlin himself was something of a lightweight, a “nice enough guy” but with “zero gravitas.”
I mentioned gravitas because the outgoing incumbent, the statesmanlike Shimon Peres, had returned an aura of seriousness and respect to the largely ceremonial office after those vital qualities had been trampled by his predecessor, a rapist now known as Inmate No. 1418989. Yet I felt even more gravitas was needed and that somehow Rivlin, a garrulous, back-slapping jokester known to one and all as Ruby, didn’t quite fit the bill.
Boy, was I wrong. It’s not just gravitas that we need – we need someone to remind us again and again that decency, fair play, democracy and adherence to the law are necessary rules for all. And Ruby fits the bill, especially when he is willing to read the riot act to compatriots from his own side of the spectrum, be they vacuous louts from his Likud party, vicious hooligans from his beloved Beitar soccer team or violent misfits from a settlement movement he has always supported.
One has to admire his gumption and pluck.
It was the same immediately after the July 31 Duma firebombing, which killed a Palestinian toddler and his father and left family members with serious burns. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others on the Right condemned the act, although they steered clear, despite certain evidence to the contrary, of laying blame at the feet of Jewish extremists. But Rivlin, while not saying outright that Jews had done it, clearly hinted in this direction when he delivered condolences to the family and said, almost in the same breath, that authorities had to clamp down hard on Jewish terrorism.
The ugly backlash against Rivlin deeply worries me, particularly in the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Rabin assassination. But I’m worried far more by the hollow silence from certain quarters whose inhabitants should know better.
The first person who should have stood up on Rivlin’s behalf was Netanyahu.
There has been bad blood between the two, but I’m sure the prime minister remembers well the period that led to the shedding of Rabin’s blood.
Conspiracy theorists like to jabber on about Shin Bet plots and people like Avishai Raviv. But Bibi cannot deny his role in whipping up the frenzy, particularly at a chilling and intimidating rally in Jerusalem’s Zion Square barely a month before the assassination, where the then-opposition leader stood on a balcony gazing down at throngs literally baying for Rabin’s hide, and practically gloated like a puffing Mussolini.
Netanyahu might not have been the one who pulled the trigger, but his few feeble entreaties to anti-Rabin protesters that they should show a bit of restraint must have been on his mind at the state funeral where, ashen-faced, he seemed genuinely shocked and even remorseful.
So now, almost 20 years on, you would think that Bibi, of all people, would immediately step forward and unequivocally condemn, with no reservations or obfuscations, the incitement against Rivlin. But he didn’t.
And there was barely a supportive peep from Netanyahu’s Likud, where Rivlin literally had grown up. In fact, an influential local party chairman wrote about Rivlin on his Facebook page, proclaiming: “Only a mentally ill person would address world media and say ‘My people chose the path of terror.’ He should be committed straight away.” All the Likud would do was issue a lame statement disassociating itself from the comments.
No, it wasn’t people from the president’s home camp – not Netanyahu, not the Likud, not the Bennetts or the Deris – who immediately came to his defense. Instead, it was the young leadership branch of the Labor Party. It brought out hundreds to Rivlin’s official residence in a show of support, for which a clearly elated president emerged – followed closely by bodyguards – to thank everyone who had come.
I ALWAYS hear people saying that moderate Muslims around the world should go out into the streets to condemn the extremists among their coreligionists, not only for atrocities but for incitement. This way they could prove that they themselves are different. But when there are such gatherings – and there are – people inevitably complain about how few and poorly attended they are.
Often, the people complaining the loudest have bad apples of their own. Of course, these bad apples are “different.”
Their actions might be “regrettable” (or not), but their grievances are “genuine” and we should “understand” their “pain” and their “frustration.”
In this case, it is the Right, especially the settlement enterprise. For all its power and ability to suck in ever more government funding, whether for existing settlements or the illegal outposts that Netanyahu has never had the guts to dismantle, this part of the political spectrum seems, outwardly at least, unwilling to rein in its worst.
After all, these people say, what’s a little graffiti, a few punctured tires? Muslims are natural-born killers. Our extremists? When they act up, it’s a little vandalism, a few burned Korans. They’re letting off a little steam. What’s to compare? As of this writing, no one has been charged in connection with Duma. It would be unfair to say that the attacker or attackers were definitely some of the same people who in the past had limited themselves to “a little vandalism” and “a few burned Korans,” incidents that have come to be called “price-tag” attacks.
But come on! The settlers and the rest of the Right know they have a problem. Bibi knows he has a problem. They – and we – should call the child by its name. Its name is Jewish terrorism, and all signs, whether in Duma, Hebron or merely on the Internet, indicate it will get worse if we continue to say nothing.
It has to stop, here and