‘Israel has learned nothing’ from Rabin’s assassination, says former D-G

“Today’s demonstrators are people who served in the army and who have contributed to the development of the country, and they are also labeled traitors.”

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin. (photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on the anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin.
(photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Time is reputedly the great healer, but 25 years after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, people who worked closely with him are still pained by the memory of a peace rally that turned into a night of mourning.
Others who may not have known Rabin are pained by the fact that a young Jewish man by the name of Yigal Amir would be so ideologically carried away as to be motivated to murder a prime minister of Israel.
Among those who were close to Rabin was Shimon Sheves, who worked with him for 12 years and ran the Labor Party primaries campaign, which resulted in Rabin becoming the leader of the party. Sheves then ran the party’s 1992 Knesset election campaign, the outcome of which was a victory that swept Rabin into the office of prime minister.
Of the positive memories that he has of his time with Rabin, Sheves, who served as the prime minister’s director-general from 1992 to 1995, says that his greatest triumph was having Rabin win the primaries. “I knew then that he would be prime minister,” he recalled this week in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Prior to Rabin’s assassination, there were major demonstrations against the Oslo Accords, with protesters carrying placards with mock-ups of Rabin dressed in a Nazi uniform. The hatred and incitement were not only palpable but frightening.
Yet the security precautions that are nowadays being taken to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from demonstrators were not taken to protect Rabin.
“There were no obstacles put up against the demonstrators,” said Sheves.
Does he think that Israel has learned a lesson from the assassination?
“Israel has learned nothing,” he declared.
Does he envisage that another political assassination might be in the offing?
“No,” he replied, “because the inciter then is still inciting.”
Sheves was alluding to Netanyahu, who, as leader of the opposition during the Rabin administration, stood on the balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square along with other Likud stalwarts and addressed the crowd at the infamous mass demonstration in which Rabin was labeled a traitor.
“Today’s demonstrators are people who served in the army and who have contributed to the development of the country, and they are also labeled traitors,” said Sheves, who commented that in most political murders, it is the Right against the Left and not the other way around.
Other than the night of the assassination, the most meaningful memory for Sheves of his long relationship with Rabin is when the prime minister, accompanied by a delegation of Holocaust survivors, went to Auschwitz in April 1993.
The prime minister had gone to Poland to attend the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and it was understandable that his itinerary would include a visit to Auschwitz. “For me as a Jew, an Israeli and the son of a mother who was a Holocaust survivor, this was an extremely meaningful and emotional visit,” said Sheves, whose grandparents and aunt had been deported to Auschwitz.
To hear “Hatikvah” sung in Auschwitz was a singular experience.
There were many uplifting moments with Rabin, but there were also some very sad ones, he said, citing as an example the 1994 terrorist attack on a bus traveling along Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street. Rabin had been in London at the time and was shocked by the news that 22 people had been killed and 50 injured. He decided to return to Israel immediately, but El Al did not have a scheduled flight so early in the day, so Rabin hired a small plane and he, his wife, Leah, his military attache, Danny Yatom, Sheves and Rabin’s bodyguard flew home. “We were all so shocked that none of us spoke during the flight,” said Sheves.
As soon as they landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, they sped off to Tel Aviv.
In the course of the interview, Sheves did not appear to realize that he had referred to a single bodyguard. Neither the president nor the prime minister of Israel goes anywhere with only a single bodyguard these days.
Another sad memory was of the terrorist attack at Beit Lid Junction in January 1995, where many soldiers were killed. Rabin, who had been a soldier from his boyhood up until a year after the 1967 War, and who later had served as defense minister, knew what it meant to lose comrades in arms and to see soldiers dying. He spoke collectively and individually to the surviving soldiers gathered at the junction. It was a very difficult moment.
Will future generations, to whom Rabin will be little more than a name in the history of modern Israel, continue to honor his memory and his legacy?
Sheves hopes that they will and is heartened by the fact that there are state ceremonies on the anniversary of Rabin’s death as there are for all deceased presidents and prime ministers.
But in Rabin’s case, there is an additional feature to the memorial. It’s more than a graveside ceremony and a special session in the Knesset.
Commemorative events begin with the lighting of a very large memorial candle known in Hebrew as Nir Yitzhak – Yitzhak’s candle.
Before the pandemic, children attending schools that have been named for Rabin came to the President’s Residence to join him in lighting the candle in the presence of Rabin’s family and closest associates.
The attendance of these youngsters, who each presented an aspect of Rabin’s life, was a sign of hope for the future and the preservation of both his memory and his legacy.