Rabin memorials devolve into political spats

Netanyahu: I condemned those who called Rabin a traitor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits alongside President Revuen Rivlin at the Israeli government's memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, November 10, 2019 (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits alongside President Revuen Rivlin at the Israeli government's memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, November 10, 2019
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The Knesset and state memorials for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin turned into platforms for political disputes on Sunday, with Rabin’s family and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of incitement.
In response, Netanyahu brought direct quotes from his speeches in 1995, before Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, in which he said “Rabin is not a traitor, he is mistaken. We are dealing with political rivals, not enemies. We are one nation.” In another, he condemned the phenomenon of calling political rivals murderers.
Gantz said that Israel is “paralyzed” because of the two elections this year, creating “fertile ground for divisions and disputes.”
The Blue and White leader blamed Netanyahu’s legal troubles for being the real reason behind the long-lasting political mess.
Since Rabin’s assassination, “the [inciting] signs in the squares have been replaced with keyboard bullies, and the undermining of national institutions is led by ministers, but the atmosphere is similar and the danger to Israeli society is greater than it was before the assassination,” Gantz posited. “All of us, on the Right and Left, must fight this phenomenon. If we are not careful, others will be seven times worse.”
GANTZ ALSO accused Netanyahu of putting his personal and political interests ahead of national security.
Labor head Amir Peretz accused Netanyahu of fighting “the gatekeepers, the prosecution, the police, the courts... until the citizens don’t know whom to believe.”
“Incitement is rearing its head again,” Peretz said. “Voices of hatred and division are everywhere, starting from social media to Goren Square [the Petah Tikva site of the protests outside Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s home], which recalls Zion Square [in Jerusalem] before the assassination. Has the lesson been learned?”
Netanyahu used his right to respond to the accusations to call the Knesset meeting “blatantly political and reckless” instead of a respectful memorial.
“The decisions we make and our judgment is based on security considerations, and they are clean of political considerations,” he added.
In his earlier address to the Knesset, Netanyahu said: “We all need to remove malignant tumors of a violent culture that justifies incitement to physical violence from the tissue of our democracy. At the same time, I want to say that we must safeguard freedoms of thought and expression in Israel’s vibrant democracy, including the right to free debate, as scathing as it may be.”
Still, he added, in a democracy, those debates cannot “cross the line separating polemics from violence,” and criticized those who try to paint large parts of the population as responsible for the actions of fringe extremists.
“There are those who, after the murder, enlisted to accuse half the nation of being fully responsible for the criminal act, and that is outrageous,” he stated.
Netanyahu defended his role as opposition leader during Rabin’s premiership, saying he represented a large part of the country that opposed Rabin’s policies, but that he never doubted Rabin’s intention was to do what was good for Israel.
At the start of the Knesset memorial, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warned against what was to come immediately after.
“The Memorial Day for Yitzhak Rabin is not the appropriate day to debate his diplomatic legacy,” he said. “We have 364 other days in the year for that. I personally disagreed with him... but this is not the day to bring up the argument. This is the day to make sure that we still have a base under us from which we can hold the argument.”
Earlier, at the state memorial by Rabin’s grave at the Mount Herzl military cemetery, Netanyahu said of the accusation that he incited against the former prime minister: “Repeating a lie many times does not make it true.”
RABIN’S GRANDSON, Yonatan Ben-Artzi, used his moment at the podium to deliver a political message in which he apparently called on Netanyahu to quit politics over the almost year-long political deadlock that has prevented the formation of a government.
He did not mention Netanyahu by name, but he said that, “the many years you have been in power have caused you to forget what it is like to be a human being.”
Ben-Artzi continued: “Take responsibility for your actions and move aside. Quit your job.”
He compared the situation to when Rabin resigned from office in 1977 because his family had illegal foreign bank accounts: “Go home and deal with the personal allegations against you. If they are cleared away, then come back.”
At the President’s Residence, the Ner Yitzhak (a candle for Yitzhak) ceremony marked the official beginning of a series of annual memorial events on the Hebrew anniversary of Rabin’s death.
In addition to four generations of the Rabin family – currently headed by the prime minister’s 94-year-old sister, Rachel Rabin Yaakov, and including his son Yuval, as well as some of the prime minister’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren – there were two former leaders of the Labor Party: former prime minister Ehud Barak and Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog.
Relating to the resurfacing of conspiracy theories about her father’s assassination, Dalia Rabin said that in the past, she had preferred to ignore them, but under the present circumstances, she felt compelled to respond that her father was killed by a Jewish person who was spurred by a different political ideology.
From the very night of the assassination 24 years ago, there were those who agreed with assassin Amir, she said, but only in the last decade has it been acceptable for people to say so out loud.
It is not uncommon, she said, for young people who visit the Rabin Center to say that Amir was right, and that if they had been around at the time, they also would have killed Rabin.
Both Rivlin and Dalia recalled an address that Rabin had given to the Jewish Federations of North America in the year he went to Washington to sign a peace accord with Yasser Arafat.
Rabin had said to the representatives of American Jewry, in regard to the peace treaty, that it represented “a new agenda for the Jewish people in the Diaspora and for the State of Israel. We are one, whether we are in Montreal, or in Jerusalem, Miami, Chicago, Ramat Gan or Netanya. We are one people, separated only by our addresses.”
Recalling the nightmare that most Israelis thought could never happen, Rivlin urged all political camps to tone down their rhetoric and to refrain from spewing hatred.
“This is not our way; this is not the way of the people of Israel,” he declared. “We have to be cognizant of the destruction we could wreak with our own hands.”