In fight for Israel's democracy, all sectors of society unite to remember Rabin

"We have to learn to live together and to give space to everyone, it’s important for all citizens to come to the square and say ‘we don’t want violence and we want to fight for this state."

Twenty years on, what would have happened if Yitzhak Rabin was not assassinated?
On Saturday night, thousands of Israelis are expected to gather at Rabin Square, the location where late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated twenty years ago. Under the banner "remembering the murder, fighting for democracy," representatives of all sectors of society will unite with one clear, joint message.
“Our goal is to ensure that the assassination is something that will be remembered for decades, not only by part of Israeli society but by all,” says Barak Sella, spokesperson of a coalition formed four years ago to this end.
Education about the historic event is key. “You have to know what happened on the night of November 4th, you have to know the context: Yigal Amir wasn’t a lone attacker - there was violence on the streets, a lot of violent protests, an atmosphere that enabled Amir to cross the line of democracy,” Sella says, asserting that the whole of Israeli society must take responsibility for what happened.
“It doesn’t matter if you voted for or against him, we don’t think everyone needs to agree with Rabin’s politics. But he was the prime minister of all - he was an important leader and he was assassinated by an Israeli citizen.”
“The prime minister of all” is a description which particularly resonates with the Arab sector, according to Mariam Awad, a leader of the Arab community in the youth movement Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed. “He was my prime minister too and I say so with pride,” she tells the Post. “He really was the prime minister of everyone, not just of the Jews.”
She recalls Rabin’s first speech to the Knesset in which he addressed Israel’s minority communities - the Arabs, Beduin and Druze - and promised to close the gaps between the Jewish and minority communities.
She laments that the gaps between the communities have since got bigger: “But when we educate our children, it’s important for us to remind them that it was not always like this - that it’s possible to get a different type of leader...and in the not-so-long-history of the state there were moments of light in relations between Arabs and Jews. They could say they were proud to be a part of Israel.”
“We personally remember him, not only for the peace process, but also for his term, as the best time for Arab Israelis,” Awad eulogizes. She remembers the period under Rabin as a time of impending peace, and while she acknowledges that there were also terror attacks and violence on both sides, she says there wasn’t the same blame culture that exists today. “Neither Jews nor Arabs felt they were being blamed. We had a responsible leader who really wanted peace, and terrorists were seen as extremists who were not connected to the normal person on the street.”
“For the first time we felt that there was a Jewish Zionist prime minister who sees Arabs as equal citizens.”
Representatives of the religious community are also coming to the square on Saturday night to show that they are part of Israeli society and united in the commitment to democracy.
“It’s not obvious that Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed and Bnei Akiva (BA) - two movements which for years had no connection-- will be in a coalition together,” stresses Sella, who is also the spokesperson of Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed. He notes that the leadership of the secular and religious movements had a thorough and long conversation and succeeded in finding common ground.  “This is a great symbol for Israeli society because people are saying they don’t only have to stay in their camp.”
“Israel will not be able to exist if all sectors of society don’t take on the rules of the game,” says Director-General of Bnei Akiva, Dani Hirschberg. “We are coming to say in the clearest way possible that we are part of this game.”
He said that for many years BA was asked to attend events which focused on Rabin’s path: “It’s not a secret, BA didn’t agree with his way. We ask to make a clear division between remembering his murder- which was a tragedy and disaster in Israel - and Rabin’s path, which many parts of Israeli society don’t agree with.”
With relation to Yigal Amir, the religious extremist who murdered Rabin, Hirschberg says unequivocally that violence is not the way of the Torah of religious Zionism, and condemns all violent acts.
BA has been a partner in the coalition since its conception, and Hirschberg notes that in the first year it received some criticism for its participation in the initiative. “But slowly my sector too saw in a clear way that it is right for of all the coalition to go together, not to the political place, but on the war to maintain democracy.’ He asserts that in his eyes there is no conflict between religion and state, and that in religion, there is space for democracy.
He says that Rabin’s assassination will always stand as a warning against violence, and asserts that the religious Zionist groups understand that the issues must be discussed and dealt with.
The coalition’s representatives of the secular, Arab and religious sectors agree that Israel’s democracy is fragile and violence and incitement are dangerous elements that threaten society.
“Neither side will wake up and find the other has gone,” says Awad. “We have to learn to live together and to give space to everyone, so it’s important now in this hard time, for all citizens to come to the square and say ‘we don’t want violence and we want to fight for this state’, not only as a Jewish state, but also as a democratic one.”
“There are parts of Israel that want to influence what is going to happen through violence and racism, and together in a wide coalition, we are opposing these people,” says Sella, lamenting that the lessons of Rabin’s assassination have not been learned. “We have to choose democracy if we want to survive.”