The rally marking 11 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin Saturday night gave testament not only to the collective memory of the slain leader, but also to the tensions and rifts on the Left.
No politicians were invited to speak - indeed, organizers took pride in this - many attendees spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the political tensions that seemed to dominate the evening.
The centerpiece of the rally, attended by an estimated 100,000 people, according to organizers, was the keynote speech delivered by renowned novelist David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed in action during this summer's war in the north. His message was political, referring only briefly to Rabin.
"Our military and political leadership is hollow," Grossman declared from the podium high above the crowd, where Meretz and Peace Now signs dominated. "I'm not talking about the abandonment of the home front or corruption," he said, "but about the fact that those who lead Israel today are incapable of connecting Israelis to their identity, to things that will grant some meaning to this struggle.
"Sometimes it seems that all that concerns the cabinet members takes place within the narrow confines of two headlines in the newspaper," he added to resounding applause. "Mr. Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert], what you are doing to this land, to its pain, hurts me.
"This summer we discovered that Israel is in a deeper crisis than we had feared. When did we abandon even the hope that we would live a better life?
"Standing before death and loss gives one clarity of mind regarding what can and cannot be achieved," Grossman said, calling on Olmert to "turn to them, turn to the Palestinian people, to their open wounds. Nothing will be lost to Israel from this act. Once you turn to them, not through rifle sights, you will see a tortured people.
"Of course they too carry responsibility for the conflict," Grossman said, but he implored Olmert not to "search for reasons not to go. If you wait, we will soon long for this amateurish Palestinian terror. We will lament that we did not pull them out of their own trap."
The response to Grossman's speech by the VIPs on the podium was startling, and generally followed their political affiliation. Faced with Grossman's critique of the government and a crowd waving dozens of giant signs reading, "Olmert and Peretz have abandoned his [Rabin's] path" and "Meretz won't sit with Lieberman," many Labor and Kadima politicians sat silent and grim-faced.
Before Grossman's speech, Vice Premier Shimon Peres told The Jerusalem Post that, despite the signs in the crowd, the rally was "not political, but rather about content," and that Rabin's legacy was the fact that even "the Likud has accepted our position on the Palestinian state and dividing the land."
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh (Labor) told the that "there were signs attacking the Labor Party 11 years ago, too. The test isn't in what the signs say, but in what you do."
However, MK Avishay Braverman (Labor), one of several legislators planning to run against Peretz for leadership of the party, agreed "with the spirit of the speech. There is a central problem in the Labor Party," he said. "It needs to renew itself in its values and morals, and it will have to change its leadership."
Indeed, Braverman said, "In front of the dead, in front of Rabin, you can't continue the 'spin.'"
Former IDF deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan, head of the Tafnit Party since December 2005, agreed with Grossman's sentiments, but not with his peace proposals. "We're living in a time that has no leadership or path. All that's true," he said, adding that he believed in the need for "security separation" from the Palestinians and "retaking northern Gaza."
Peretz ally Housing and Construction Minister Isaac Herzog, also of Labor, said he respected both Grossman's critique and the man himself, "but I think things are judged in the long-term."
Herzog accused the Meretz and Peace Now supporters at the rally of "harming the memory of Rabin, his legacy, and the work of those who are trying to commemorate him. It's a grave mistake, and Meretz apparently hasn't learned anything," he said.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir, yet another Labor representative, refused comment, telling the Post, "One can't conduct negotiations with a speech." Besides, she said, "The square has always belonged to the [extreme] Left."
Grossman's charge that "the pyromaniac [Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman has been appointed to the position of the state's chief firefighter" was met with applause from Braverman and Meretz MK Ran Cohen. Peres and Defense Minister Amir Peretz grimaced quietly.
Many on the podium said they had come to remember Rabin the man and lamented the apparent total politicization of the memorial rally. Sneh wanted to speak of "the memories that float back up every year," and Peres fondly remembered the first part of "the rally [11 years ago] as the happiest evening of [Rabin's] life, in which he sang, joked, shone."
The rally opened at 8 p.m. with singer Achinoam Nini performing "Re'ut" ("Friendship"), a song in memory of departed comrades. Other performer included Aviv Gefen, David Broza, Harel Skaat, Ninet Taib, Meital Trabelsi, Din Din Aviv, Keren Peles and Miki Gabrielov.
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