Netanyahu still likely to attend Knesset's Rabin memorial

In first for sitting PM, Netanyahu expected to skip Rabin memorial at Mount Herzl

Unnamed sources close to premier call ceremony increasingly ‘political’; event has become battlefield between Netanyahu and Rabin family

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a memorial service marking 23 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on October 21, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a memorial service marking 23 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on October 21, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to not attend next month’s annual state ceremony in memory of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to multiple Hebrew media reports on Monday.

Channel 12 and Haaretz cited unnamed associates of the premier confirming the matter, and saying the event had become “political.”

It would be the first time any sitting premier boycotts the ceremony at the Great Leaders of the Nation’s Plot in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery, as Netanyahu faces persistent protests against his hardline coalition at almost all public events he attends in Israel and abroad.

The ceremony, commemorating the left-wing leader who was assassinated in 1995 by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir, has increasingly become a battleground between Netanyahu and Rabin’s relatives, many of whom blame the current premier and then opposition leader for the polarized political climate that led to the murder, and who have increasingly accused him of once again stoking intense divisions in the country.

In recent days, the Prime Minister’s Office updated the organizers of the October 26 ceremony that there was no need to reserve a seat for Netanyahu in this year’s event, Channel 12 news reported.

The network and the Haaretz daily both cited unnamed associates of Netanyahu explaining the absence by saying the ceremony “has become a political event.” Though they noted that no final decision had been made, they said he would likely only attend the official ceremony at the Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in front of the tombstone of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during a memorial service marking 23 years since the assassination, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on October 21, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/File)

Though it would be his first absence as prime minister. Netanyahu previously skipped the Mount Herzl ceremony when he was the opposition leader in 2021. He also failed to show up last year, when the ceremony was held days before the national election that ended up returning him to power.

The assassin Amir shot Rabin at the end of a mass peace rally in Tel Aviv that was called to highlight opposition to violence and to showcase public support for his efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has denied responsibility for the incitement that led to the killing.

In his book, “Bibi: My Story,” published in the fall of last year, Netanyahu claims that Avishai Raviv, who served as an agent provocateur within the extreme right, was tasked with inciting right-wingers against Rabin, using posters printed by the Shin Bet security service.

Netanyahu referred specifically to a demonstration in 1995 that was held in Jerusalem a month before Rabin was murdered, at which he spoke from a balcony in Zion Square, while protesters below held posters showing the then-premier dressed in Nazi uniform.

Hundreds of former agents in the Shin Bet, including retired heads of the security service, sent a letter earlier this year to Netanyahu accusing him of lying and promoting conspiracy theories over the claim.

At a Labor party rally commemorating Rabin’s death last year at Zion Square, faction chair Merav Michaeli ripped into Netanyahu for attending and speaking at the contentious 1995 demonstration in the same Jerusalem plaza.

“On that balcony, over those chants, stood the leader of Likud who organized the demonstration,” she charged. “Other members of Likud at the time, who were similarly opposed to the Oslo Accords — Benny Begin, David Levy and Dan Meridor — left the balcony. They were not willing to be part of that terrible incitement. But not the Likud chairman. He stood over [the balcony], smiling and with great pleasure, satisfied with his great success.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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