An estimated 20,000 Israelis gathered Saturday night in Tel Aviv to commemorate the 17th anniversary of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination at the square where he was killed in 1995, and which was subsequently renamed in his honor.
The ceremony at Rabin Square, organized by the Dror Israel youth group, was titled “remembering the murder, fighting for democracy.” Politicians were not invited to the event.
Poet Haim Gouri, writer Rino Tsror, musician Shlomo Bar, and Rabbi Benjamin Lau spoke before the thousands who gathered to remember the prime minister who signed the Oslo Accords with the PLO and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty.
Those present at the ceremony noted the vast number of youths in attendance who are not old enough to remember Rabin’s assassination in November 1995. Several youth groups, including the religious-Zionist Bnei Akiva movement, participated in the memorial.
Rabin served as Israel’s chief of staff, ambassador to the US, defense minister and prime minister, among other posts. Speaking before the assembled masses, poet Gouri remembered Rabin as the “man of the Palmach from its start, a fighter in the IDF in all its wars, chief of staff, and the first prime minister born of Israel.”
“I speak to you as your grandfather. You are the future of this country. Everything that happens to us in the coming years depends on you,” Gouri said to the crowd of youngsters.
“An ill wind is blowing in Israel — the one that allowed the murder of Muslim worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs [in Hebron in 1994] and today allows ‘price tag’ people to run rampant,” he said — in reference to attacks on Arab targets carried out by pro-settler extremists.
Lau, the son of the former chief rabbi of Israel, said that the memorial ceremony brought everyone together “to say aloud: ‘We will not let anyone break our national home. We’ll say together, ‘No to violence, no to racism, no to Torat Hamelech [a controversial religious text on the killing of non-Jews], this country is dear to us and no one has the right to harm it.'”
Bnei Akiva youth movement leader Danny Hirschberg, whose movement was formally attending the annual event for the first time, told the audience that they must “struggle against those who set mosques aflame and against those who encourage the worshippers and the mosque-torchers to kindle a fire of hatred and violence between the two nations living in this land.”
Avi Gisser, the chief rabbi of the Ofra settlement, also spoke at the event. Israel Radio said there was some “light booing” at the beginning of his address. Former education minister Prof. Yuli Tamir was another to address the gathering. Many of the participants were in their mid- and late-teens, bussed in by their youth movements for the event.
Earlier in the week, infighting among participating youth groups resulted in the cancelation of the country’s central annual memorial ceremony scheduled for November 3. One of the groups, Dror Israel, held Saturday night’s ceremony in Rabin Square a week ahead of the canceled memorial.
The Fourth of November group, organizer of the canceled event — which has been held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for the past 16 years — announced on Thursday that the ceremony, scheduled for Saturday, November 3, would not take place because Dror Israel and the Hamahanot Haolim youth groups could not reach a compromise on the theme of the ceremony.
“The split is a disaster for Rabin’s legacy,” Fourth of November members said, according to Army Radio. In the face of what they described as “bullying and manipulative methods to take over a national event,” the members said they were left with no choice but to cancel the event.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.