katsav sits stern 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
A call to boycott this year's Yitzhak Rabin memorial ceremony at Beit Hanassi because of pending accusations of sexual conduct against President Moshe Katsav appeared to have been heeded Wednesday, when only one minister and four MKs turned up for the event.
While in the past some ministers stayed away because they simply couldn't be bothered, this year's event, the first in which the commemoration was held as a state ceremony, drew only Ya'akov Edri, chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies and Minister for Jerusalem Affairs. None of the other ministers who indicated that they were coming showed up.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter called to apologize, explaining that he had to go to a funeral, but Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, for whom chairs had been reserved in the front row, absented themselves without explanation. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, for whom a seat was also kept, likewise stayed away.
The only MKs who did come were Yuval Steinitz, Ghaleb Majadle, Ephraim Sneh and Danny Yatom.
Members of the Rabin family came as they have done over the past decade, and included the slain prime minister's daughter Dalia Rabin, his son Yuval Rabin who lives in Washington, his granddaughter Noa Ben- Artzi-Rotman and her husband Eldad, his grandson Yonatan Ben-Artzi, his sister Rachel Yaacov and members of her family.
Also present were Rabin's three drivers: Ilan Drukman, who had been his driver in Washington when Rabin served as Israel's ambassador there; Yehezkiel Sharabi, who had been his long-time driver in Israel; and Menachem Damte, who had been his driver on the night that he was assassinated and had driven him to the hospital after he had been shot.
Rabin's bureau chief Eitan Haber relived a moment in history when a video-taped review of various episodes in Rabin's life included Haber's announcement to the nation that the prime minister had been assassinated. Another person who had been close to Rabin was journalist Tali Lipkin-Shahak, who developed a close relationship with him when she worked as a military reporter for the now defunct Davar. Currently a writer for Ma'ariv and its subsidiaries, she is married to former chief of General Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.
Lipkin-Shahak has been among those journalists who have called for Katsav to suspend himself in the face of allegations of rape and sexual harassment, and has written extensively on the subject.
Asked whether she had any reservations about attending she replied that she had no hesitation. It was more important to come this year than in any other year, she said, because the emphasis was in honoring the memory of Yitzhak Rabin and not on anything else. "This house is the house of the presidents of Israel and all that that symbolizes. Even though this may have been abused by the current president, the house in itself is important."
Katsav, who lit the memorial candle for Rabin, described him as "a courageous leader who tried to quash the fires of wars and transport us to a different reality." Katsav highlighted the flaw in Israel's society that permitted the harboring of intolerance, hatred, demagoguery and violence, and stressed the need for introspection so as to rid the nation of these qualities.
"We have to ask ourselves daily where we erred, what it was that enabled this murder," he said. "Why did we not see the writing on the wall in all these years?"
In urging greater tolerance, Katsav said: "No one is asked to compromise their beliefs, but we must respect the beliefs of others."