The Knesset’s annual memorial for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin turned acrimonious on Sunday, with speakers on the Left saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared the responsibility for the assassination.
The meeting marking the 21st Hebrew anniversary of Rabin’s murder started uneventfully, with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaking out against incitement in general, saying it comes from both sides, and that words posted on social media can turn into physical violence.
Edelstein turned to listeners on the Right, saying, “Do not boycott, do not hold a grudge forever,” and on the Left, saying, “Don’t forever view an entire sector of the pubic as stained... Don’t exclude an entire part of the public from being part of the memory and learning lessons.”
It quickly became clear that the lawmakers did not heed Edelstein’s call, and the speaker made his disapproval apparent with comments and audible sighs throughout.
Netanyahu braced himself for mudslinging on Saturday night, posting a video of him speaking out against incitement against Rabin ahead of the assassination, with the text: “Since the murder, there are continualattempts to twist the historical truth and attribute to me the incitement ahead of the murder. Here are some examples of the clear things I said criticizing the hate speech against the prime minister. Judge for yourselves.”
Netanyahu’s speech to the Knesset the following day focused on Rabin’s contributions to the nation’s security, about which he said there is a near-consensus of approval among Israelis.
Then, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) spoke, saying of the Right: “The power of violence, the poison of racism, hatred and incitement mixed with silence were fertile ground for the murder... You didn’t mean it, but you didn’t prevent it, either.”
Herzog said Netanyahu is responsible for preventing the next political assassination, and that those who are silent now closed their eyes to incitement in 1995, as well.
The Zionist Union chairman said that Rabin, unlike Netanyahu, “didn’t think the state belongs to him. He understood the rules of the democratic game and respected them. He knew that criticism against a prime minister isn’t personal persecution.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) walked out during Herzog’s remarks, writing on Twitter that he will not allow the Left to slander the entire Right from the Knesset podium.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), the next speaker, said he was diverging from his prepared remarks and directed his speech to Herzog, who he said was the opposite of a leader. His speech was peppered with shouting from left-wing MKs.
“You are trying to silence half of the population and blame them,” Bennett said. “For 21 years, the Left has been trying to blame Netanyahu for the incitement. Over and over Netanyahu said we disagree, but there should be no incitement. And now you’re trying to silence him.
“We should not blame and point fingers. [Herzog] stood here and continued doing what [the Left] has done for 21 years. There was a dispute, but for a moment, I never doubted Rabin’s good intentions, and neither did Prime Minister Netanyahu. The phenomenon of hatred of individuals exists today, and we must all fight it.
It’s not a matter of Right or Left,” he added.
Bennett praised Rabin’s daughter, former deputy defense minister Dalia Rabin, for reaching out to the Right and religious Zionists, and said that as education minister, the message he would like to send is that it is okay to have a disagreement, but that it should stay within certain boundaries.
He also vowed to ensure that the youth movements’ annual rally in memory of Rabin will continue to take place.
Rabin’s assassin “replaced his ballot with gunpowder. He will stay in prison until his dying day, but Israeli democracy will flourish,” Bennett concluded.
The final speaker was Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, whose speech also elicited interruptions, this time from the Right.
Directing her words to Netanyahu, Gal-On said: “You are not the victim of Rabin’s assassination. No one in the world gained as much from Rabin’s murder as you did. You owe your political existence to his murder.”
Gal-On accused Netanyahu of legitimizing ultra-nationalism and only condemning incitement after the assassination.
“I have no doubt that you didn’t want the murder to happen, but you released demons and proved that you have no problem releasing them again,” she stated. “Stop playing the victim and start taking responsibility for what you say and what your friends say.”