(photo credit: REUTERS)
Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi’s merits and achievements cannot be erased, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, at a Knesset meeting in memory of the tourism minister assassinated by a Palestinian terrorist in 2001.
Netanyahu and others spoke to a mostly empty plenum, with only half the coalition and just a handful of opposition members present.
Ze’evi’s hard-line views were always controversial – he advocated “transfer,” paying Palestinians to leave – but a posthumous news report from 2016 in which women accused him of assault overshadowed his memorial last year and this year.
Still, the prime minister said Ze’evi’s years of public service stand in opposition of those who try to sully his name.
“The claims against him hurt all of us, and anyone who knew him and his great actions, but more than anyone, they hurt his family, because Gandhi is unable to have his say,” Netanyahu said. “This is a clear attempt to blur or erase his merits and his legacy, but it won’t happen. Boycotts won’t erase his contributions to the struggle to establish the state and ensure its security.”
Netanyahu vowed to memorialize Ze’evi, including in Samaria, in the West Bank, which the prime minister said Ze’evi considered “the cradle of the history of our nation.”
“Gandhi had a clear Zionist vision. No, I’m not talking about transfer – I don’t believe in uprooting people from their homes, neither Jews nor Arabs – I mean the three things he believed in: The people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the history of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein sought to focus on the parts of Ze’evi’s legacy that were not controversial: “He was among those who made the rule that we do not leave wounded soldiers in the field and we do not abandon captive soldiers.
Unfortunately, since he was murdered, more names have joined the list of captives... In Gandhi’s spirit, the spirit of uncompromising loyalty, commitment and sticking to his mission, we will do all we can” to bring them home.
For many years, Ze’evi, who fought in the Palmah and was a major-general in the IDF, wore a dog tag with the names of captive soldiers. He was assassinated by four gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, at the former Hyatt Hotel on Mount Scopus on October 17, 2001.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that Ze’evi’s “transfer” ideas were racist, and he personally argued with Ze’evi about them.
Herzog also pointed to the accusations of sexual misconduct, saying “We cannot ignore them in light of the campaign around the world and in Israel of women who are telling their stories... about sexual assault.
“Obviously if the allegations were brought up when Gandhi was still alive, he would have had the right and the opportunity to respond and react to them. This will remain an unfinished chapter, in which the dead cannot clear their names,” Herzog said.
Lawmakers from Meretz and the Joint List said they were boycotting the ceremony because of the sexual assault allegations, but they were not frequent attendees of the previous years’ memorials, either.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman and Meretz MK Michal Rozin plan to bring bills to a vote on Wednesday that would cancel the annual state memorials to Ze’evi.
Touma-Sliman’s bill points to “testimony about Rehavam Ze’evi’s involvement in sexual assault, and rape... unjustified killing and abusing corpses. Ze’evi also had a racist worldview of transferring civilians.
Therefore, his legacy is not worth memorializing, and this bill is meant to fix the mistake made by the Knesset in passing a law to memorialize him.”
A similar bill was voted down last year.