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Israel hasn’t learned the lesson of Rabin’s assassination, slain PM’s son says

Quarter-century after his father was slain by Jewish extremist, Yuval Rabin worries about history repeating itself, but takes solace in growing anti-government demonstrations

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Yuval Rabin, son of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaks at a memorial service marking 22 years since his assasination, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. November 1, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Yuval Rabin, son of the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaks at a memorial service marking 22 years since his assasination, held at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. November 1, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Israeli society hasn’t learned the lessons of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination a quarter century ago, his son Yuval Rabin said Sunday, lamenting the level of public discourse and political leaders’ persistent attacks on their opponents and the legal establishment.

At the same time, he said he was heartened by a growing number of Israelis who are unwilling to accept the current state of affairs and have been taking to the streets to protest against it.

“Gauging the sentiment on the street, in the social networks and the rhetoric of the politicians, I think we should never rule out repeat incidents,” he told the Jerusalem Press Club during an online briefing for journalists marking the 25th anniversary of his father’s November 4, 1995, assassination by a Jewish far-right extremist.

“I also think that things happen in an unanticipated way. I am not sure the next shock will occur in the same way. I am almost certain it will happen, but I am not sure how. Will it be another assassination? Will it be something else? I don’t know.”

Asked if the lessons of his father’s murder had been learned, Rabin, 65, replied: “I am afraid not. If anything, we only see further regression.”

In the 1990s, right-wing protests against the Rabin government’s Oslo peace process with the Palestinians and the incitement against the people spearheading it led to a hostile atmosphere that culminated in Rabin’s assassination, Rabin said. That tense atmosphere has only “deepened” since 1995, he lamented.

Yitzhak Rabin, left, chats with Yasser Arafat, center, and Shimon Peres after the three received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1994. (GPO)

“The challenge to the rule of law [and the fact that the political] leadership challenges the [legal] system in such a profound way is very problematic,” Rabin went on. “In fact, we’re seeing history repeating itself, where the system is abused in a way that actually undermines the system. And that is the scariest thing we’re witnessing.”

After his father’s killing, Rabin criticized the attorney general for not having acted forcefully against calls for his murder. Nowadays, he said, “it’s up to the leaders to restrain themselves and to lower the flames. The flames are very high at this point.”

Yuval Rabin addressing the Jerusalem Press Club via Zoom, November 1, 2020 (screen grab)

“The unrestrained language that many leaders are using these days, whether leaders at the top or on other levels, is paving the way for additional incidents of this scope and nature,” he warned, referring to his father’s assassination.

The threat of legal action against incitement may not be enough to prevent another tragedy, Rabin surmised, “especially in light of the fact that the authority of the legal system is constantly challenged by the [political] leadership.”

Without naming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has criticized harshly, or the ruling Likud party, Rabin said today’s political leadership weakens the rule of law with incessant attacks on the courts and other law enforcement agencies.

Then opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu overlooks a right-wing rally in Jerusalem’s Zion Square in 1995. The slogan on the sign below him reads “the nation did not decide” and was the brainchild of Hagi Ben Artzi (screen capture: YouTube)

“The basic premise of maintaining democracy is that the rule of law must be supreme. And where the leaders themselves on an ongoing basis challenge the validity and the legitimacy of the [justice system’s] decisions because they don’t like them, it totally breaks the structure,” he said.

But while there are many reasons to be concerned, Rabin also noted what he described as a positive change since the tense days of the early 1990s.

The Israeli public appears to show “increasing resistance” as a “wide range of constituencies are saying: ‘No more,’ and more and more people are protesting and demanding that the law applied to everyone equally,” he said, apparently referring to the weekly demonstrations against Netanyahu and his government.

A protester carries placards during a demonstration near the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on October 24, 2020. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

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