Leaders of the political left and center, speaking at the annual rally marking 23 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, decried what they said was the government’s systematic use of “incitement” and “fearmongering” rhetoric and its persecution of political rivals to score political points, at the cost of dividing the country.
Tens of thousands of people attended the rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni told the crowd that “history is repeating itself,” with the left once again an acceptable target for right-wing hate, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fanning the flames.
“It’s enough to read the prime minister’s posts, to see his videos, to listen to his speeches, to read the violent talkbacks that these evil winds encourage: [Ideologies] that accuse any who think differently of treason, of posing a danger to the nation.
“Those who work towards peace are not traitors,” she said. “It was true then and it is true today.”
Zionist Union chief Avi Gabbay said: “Rabin chose peace and fought Hamas. Netanyahu gave up peace and capitulated to Hamas.”
He too accused the premier of “politics of hate.”
“We’ve had it with relentless fearmongering, we’ve had it with defamation against the police and the IDF chief of staff, against the president, against the media, against the Supreme Court. We’ve had it with pinning blame and marking traitors,” he said. “A government that encourages hatred between brethren is not an unavoidable fate.”
Meretz head Tamar Zandberg called Rabin’s murder “the most successful political killing in history…it succeeded. Mission accomplished. Peace was destroyed.”
Netanyahu, she said, “has turned incitement into his chief tool to leave the peace camp defeated, controlled, crushed…. Netanyahu’s biggest achievement is not 30 or 40 seats in the Knesset, but that he’s taught the Israeli public there is nothing to dream of or to aspire to. That war is our fate. That those who want peace are idiots, naive, or traitors.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid struck a more conciliatory tone, saying: “There are extremists on the right and on the left. We are obligated to stand up to them. But not all those who think differently are extreme or an existential threat. Not all those who think differently are enemies. Not all of the right murdered Rabin. Not all the left is to blame for terror attacks.”
However, Lapid too warned of politics of “black and white, us and them, good guys and bad guys. Hatred and fear and violence have become political tools. I feel an obligation to warn that when the government says any who think differently are traitors and accomplices of the enemy, it is leading us down a dangerous path. It must end.”
In a break from previous years, a senior right-wing figure also spoke at the rally — Minister Tzachi Hanegbi of Likud. Hanegbi, who many on the left see as complicit in the incitement that led to Rabin’s murder, was loudly booed throughout his speech. Many in the crowd urged him to “get off the stage” and to “apologize.”
The minister said assassin Yigal Amir “wanted to kill the man to kill a policy, even at the price of killing democracy and civil war.”
Hanegbi said, “Many in the public, and I among them, believe the [Oslo accords] were a terrible mistake. We opposed it. But when the murderer slew the prime minister, I and each and every one of my partners in that legitimate political fight felt exactly what Israelis on the other side of the ideological spectrum felt.”
He too spoke against politics of extremes. The public should “choose that which unifies over that which divides, restraint and moderation over grandstanding and crudeness, not give in to a reality of superficial, divisive discourse which characterizes our times,” he said.
Despite the antagonistic reception, Hanegbi said later he was glad to have come. “It was very important that what I believe in be said at this event, proudly and without any attempt to pander to the audience. The rally was meant to unify and I made my contribution to unity.”
Jewish Home part leader Naftali Bennett, responding to the booing of Hanegbi, called the rally “a shameful leftist demonstration. The right didn’t murder Rabin, Yigal Amir did.”
He added: “I’ve had it with the false accusations of the left. Right-wingers should not attend a rally whose purpose is to defame the right.”
Netanyahu tweeted: “It is regrettable that the memorial rally for prime minister Yitzhak Rabin has been turned into a political gathering. Those who champion freedom of speech try to silence any who don’t agree with them.”
For the second year in a row the rally was organized by the Darkenu movement, which describes itself as a group seeking to “empower the moderate majority of Israelis to exert influence on government policy and on the public discourse.”
The organization said ahead of the rally that it would “focus this year on warning against an atmosphere of divisiveness, incitement and inflamed spirits ahead of the upcoming general elections.”
Noting the “violent and incendiary public discourse” that was prevalent ahead of Rabin’s killing 23 years ago, the group said elected officials from across the political spectrum would be called upon to “maintain a civilized rhetoric.”
Ahead of the rally, roads around the square were closed off beginning at 5:30 p.m. They were reopened around 11 p.m.
Events to commemorate Rabin’s assassination have already proven divisive this year. Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Rothman, speaking at a national memorial ceremony last month, said Israel’s leadership was setting the country’s political camps against each other and inciting against the left. She also erroneously claimed that an official in the current Prime Minister’s Office had branded her grandfather a “traitor.”
Her speech was lambasted by various right-wing politicians as “political” in nature, leading to scathing retorts from left-wing leaders.
President Reuven Rivlin also expressed concerns during a ceremony that the memory of the former prime minister’s murder is fading in Israeli society, and warned of the dangers of incitement to violence.
Right-wing extremist Yigal Amir shot Rabin to death on November 4, 1995, at the end of an event the prime minister had held in Tel Aviv to demonstrate public support for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians. Rabin served as Israel’s chief of staff during the Six Day War in 1967. Other posts that he held during his career included ambassador to the US, defense minister, and prime minister.
In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat for his part in signing the Oslo Peace accords.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.