The organizers of the Rabin rally marked the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Saturday night attempted to break down barriers by inviting members from across the political spectrum to speak. In the audience, many loudly expressed their disapproval in a clear message that certain speakers – particularly Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi – were not welcome.
The event at Rabin Square was organized by the civil society Darkenu movement and the National Union of Israeli Students and was hosted by Arab-Israeli presenter Lucy Ayoub. Tens of thousands of people attended the event. The rally was held under the banner that the moderate majority came to the square against division and incitement.
Speaking to the audience before politicians took the stage, Dr. Kobi Richter of Darkenu explained that the movement wanted the event to be one where every Israeli could find his or her place. He urged the audience “to take down the partitions between us, also for speakers who disagree with us.” But some members of the audience expressed their disapproval chanting “shame, shame, shame,” while others blew vuvuzelas.
Initially, Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg was not invited to speak, sparking outrage among the Left that she was not included, while Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi of the Likud was invited. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was also greeted by some boos, although when Hanegbi took the stage, his entire speech was drowned out by the crowd. Ignoring the reaction from the audience, he continued with his speech, as planned.
“Without opposition, there is no democracy,” he said. “We are a brotherhood, and we must be together over our country. This was [Rabin’s] belief to preserve the country. May his memory be a blessing,” he said.
Leaders from the Left, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Zandberg were warmly received.
“You are our hope,” Gabbay told the audience. He focused his speech on the younger generation who didn’t know Rabin. “You did not get to know a prime minister who cared, who placed security above all,” but who also took courageous steps toward peace, he said. “Our leadership today is divisive.”
Rabin, he said, would never mix politics with security. “Rabin chose peace and fought Hamas, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu gave up on peace and surrendered to Hamas... We are in a struggle for our society, a struggle for democracy,” Gabbay said.
Livni, too, attacked Netanyahu, saying: “History is repeating itself... it’s enough to read the posts of the prime minister.”
Rabin’s murder, both she and Gabbay stressed, was a political one.
“The bullets in Rabin’s back were shots against democracy,” Livni said. “In this square, the blood of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shed, who sought to prevent bloodshed. He was murdered because of peace... I am here not only to remember the leader who paid his life for peace, but also to make clear that no one will turn our path into a betrayal. I call on my friends, also from the Right, look at what’s happening and stand with us against the delegitimization... because we will all have to explain what we did when it was happening and is happening before our eyes,” she continued, calling for “a contract” to never allow again, for disagreements to turn to hatred to turn to bullets.
“The assassination of Rabin was not just murder. That gun is here again,” Lapid said.
“Specifically because I’m not on the Left – I’m warning that this government is leading a dangerous path. Not all the Right killed Rabin. The Left is not to blame for terror attacks.
Most Israeli citizens don’t want to live under incitement. Most Israeli citizens want to live together, and for the first time in a while, I am more hopeful that more and more want change. I meet them all over the country. The change is Rabin’s legacy,” Lapid said.
Zandberg recalled dancing at Rabin Square in 1995 as an “optimistic, naive” 18-year-old girl.
“I can’t imagine, didn’t suspect for a second, how this evening would end. Nor did I realize at that moment that this was going to be the most successful political assassination in history,” she continued. “And if we do not leave this evening with a commitment to action, Yigal Amir can continue smiling for another year. Because the murder succeeded. Target achieved. Peace was shattered. So this evening, this year, the time has come to turn the pain into rage, and rage into power. Look at our children, those who were not born yet at the time of the murder, but it affected their lives more than any other event. For them – tonight we get up from the mourning and begin to raise our heads, to fight and win,” she said.
“Most Israelis are with us. The question of whether we will be ingratiating, silent and disintegrate, or if we will stand up to our historic test with hope and courage,” she said.
After several years of not performing at the rally, singer Aviv Geffen featured at this year’s event. Geffen is an artist who is most identified with the peace movement of Rabin’s time, and performed at the same rally in which the late prime minister was murdered 23 years ago.
Other artists who performed were the band Ethnix, Dana International and Masada Yemini.
The organizers noted that the rally comes before a year of national elections that is “expected to lead to violent and poisonous discourse and violent incitement against entire populations. A situation that rips Israel from within and creates walls and mistrust in the political system and in Israeli society.”
The rally, they said, sought to remind Israelis “how the violent and inflammatory discourse that took place here 23 years ago finally led to the terrible tragedy of assassinating a prime minister in Israel because of a political dispute, a discourse that still exists and is becoming more sophisticated.”
But one participant told The Jerusalem Post that after attending the rally every single year, she was not sure she would return next year due to the crowd’s reaction to Hanegbi. She agreed with others that the choice of Hanegbi was particularly problematic, as many on the Left associate him with the infamous rally held in Jerusalem Zion Square in which flyers of Rabin in an SS uniform were distributed. However, she also said that the boos against Hanegbi only served to strengthen the Right’s discourse against the Left.
Indeed, politicians from the Right were swift to condemn the rally participants, with Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister describing it as "an embarrassing left-wing protest."
Netanyahu said he was "sorry that they turned the Memorial Ceremony in memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin into a political conference. Those who exalt freedom of expression try to silence anyone who disagrees with them."
Livni posted Hanegbi´s speech on her Twitter "for anyone who couldn't hear it because of the disturbances" and Lapid said everyone should condemn the voices that "humiliated the rally for the memory of Rabin tonight."
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