A bullish IDF general who founded the ultra-nationalist Moledet party and advocated the transfer of Arabs out of Israel, former minister Rehavam Ze’evi was a controversial figure throughout his professional life.
But after he was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists in 2001 while serving as tourism minister, Ze’evi — or Gandhi, as he was quaintly known — entered the annals of Zionist history and was canonized as a true Israeli hero. Roads were named after him, mandatory school curricula were written and laws were passed enshrining his memory in annual state memorials.
This year, however, several Israeli politicians and public figures have been calling for the cancellation of state-organized commemorations, planned for Tuesday afternoon, following the publication in April of an extensive investigative TV report detailing severe allegations — including rape and intimidation — against him.
The allegations appeared in Channel 2’s investigative journalism television program “Uvda” (Fact) and included anonymous testimony by a female soldier who said she was raped by Ze’evi while he was an IDF general. The program said a number of senior officers were aware of the incident and helped Ze’evi hide his crime. Numerous other women were also quoted alleging intimidation and harassment at the hands of Ze’evi.
The report detailed a number of incidents in which Ze’evi allegedly used violent coercive tactics to scare people who crossed his path.
According to “Uvda,” Ze’evi claimed he conspired with a crime boss, Tuvia Oshri, to set off an explosive device in 1974 outside the home of Sylvie Keshet, an investigative journalist who wrote critically about Ze’evi. No one was convicted of the crime. In addition, Eitan Haber, a close associate of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, said Ze’evi once pointed a handgun at his head during an argument.
After the report was aired, the chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, Zehava Galon, said her party would work to cancel the annual memorial day. Shelly Yachimovich, a Zionist Union lawmaker and former head of the Labor Party, said she supported those efforts, tweeting that Ze’evi “is dead but his victims live on, scarred, as their daughters and granddaughter study his horrific legacy.”
Despite those efforts, the memorial events, which this year mark 15 years since Ze’evi’s assassination by four gunmen in a Jerusalem hotel ar the height of the Palestinian Second Intifada, were slated to go ahead Tuesday as usual.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin were set to attend the official state memorial ceremony at 3 p.m. at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, where Ze’evi is buried. Netanyahu will then travel to the Knesset for a special sitting of the legislature where he, along with Speaker Yuli Edelstein and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, will deliver a memorial speech.
Former Knesset member Yael Dayan, who appeared in the “Uvda” report, described the memorials as a “mistake that needs to be fixed.”
“The mistake was turning Gandhi into a positive state and national symbol. It’s a disgrace that we have an obligation to fix,” she told Army Radio Tuesday morning. “He can be remembered, but without the state honors.”
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said that holding an official ceremony at the Knesset sent a message that MKs were not willing to defend women who make sexual harassment claims. “We don’t need to erase his entire legacy, but we should end the Knesset memorial,” she told Army Radio.
Responding to calls to drop out of the ceremony and cancel his planned speech, Herzog said it was possible to differentiate between the man and the assassination.
As head of the opposition, Herzog will “give a speech at the ceremony according to Knesset protocol,” a statement from his office said.
Herzog “sees importance in a separation between the murder of an Israeli cabinet minister by Palestinian terrorists — something we should not forget and should commemorate — and the serious claims brought against the minister,” it added.
Ze’evi fought during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and was a senior member of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six Day War. Rabin, who was chief of staff, promoted him to brigadier general after the war. Hailing from a socialist Zionist home, Ze’evi gradually became more hawkish. During the 1990s, he was an advocate of the concept of having Arab Israelis and Palestinians relocated outside the borders of the State of Israel and the West Bank.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party said he would oppose attempts to stop commemorations. He had criticized the airing of the “Uvda” program at the time, citing Ze’evi’s inability to respond to the claims. Ze’evi was the founder of the Moledet party, which later became part of the National Union, which eventually became a faction in Ariel’s Jewish Home party.
“General Rehavam Ze’evi devoted his life to safeguarding Israel’s security,” Ariel wrote on Facebook at the time. “It is inappropriate to destroy his reputation when he is unable to comment.”
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