The Knesset speaker, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Sunday morning that the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had “no historical impact,” as politicians bashed each other in the aftermath of a divisive Tel Aviv memorial rally for Rabin a day earlier.
After the leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg, called Rabin’s murder “the most successful political killing in history” in her speech at Saturday night’s memorial event, Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio that the assassin, Yigal Amir, had not achieved his goals.
“I think this despicable political murder had no historical impact,” Edelstein said. “If it achieved any goals, they were the opposite from what Yigal Amir was intending to accomplish.”
At the increasingly controversial and contested annual rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where the murder took place in 1995, leaders of the political left and center decried what they said was the government’s systematic use of “incitement” and “fear-mongering” rhetoric and its persecution of political rivals to score political points at the cost of dividing the country.
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 right-wing incitement in the lead-up to Rabin’s murder, was loudly booed throughout his speech. Many in the crowd heckled him, urging him to “get off the stage” and to “apologize.”
Edelstein said that organizers of the demonstration had invited him to speak as well, and that he had considered it carefully, but decided against it due to the intense opposition by hard-left activists to such a speech by someone perceived by them to have supported the incitement that led to the murder.
Edelstein had participated in dozens of protests against the Oslo peace accord pushed by Rabin before his assassination, but said he was “never part of any incitement or violence. I have nothing to apologize about.”
“When I got an invitation to speak, immediately some of the speakers sought to ban a right-wing, religious settler such as myself. What is that if not silencing?” he argued, calling for the political debate to continue freely.
In her address Saturday at the ceremony marking 23 years since Rabin’s murder, Zandberg said the act had “succeeded. Mission accomplished. Peace was destroyed.”
She repeated that message on Sunday in a scathing response to Edelstein’s remarks, claiming they “devalue his statesmanlike role and prove that just like back then, the right to this day hasn’t learned or changed anything.
“Rabin’s murder derailed Israel from its path and stopped the peace process. That’s what it intended to do and it succeeded,” Zandberg added.
MK Itzik Shmuli of the opposition Zionist Union party also criticized Edelstein, saying the Knesset speaker had made a “regrettable remark that runs contrary to the truth, since the murderer sought to violently destroy the policy of a democratically elected government and succeeded dramatically.
“Not only did the violence have an impact — it completely changed history, and we should all understand that,” Shmuli said.
After the criticism, Edelstein published a clarification stating that what he had meant to say was that rather than ending the peace process as he had hoped, Amir had “prolonged the life of the Oslo agreements, which were doomed to failure from that start.”
Hanegbi, who was loudly booed during his speech at the memorial, said Sunday that he wasn’t surprised at his reception and didn’t regret coming since it was “important to me to participate in the event and stand against the thuggish attempt to silence me.”
Left-wing participants “speak of reconciliation, but won’t reconcile with their brothers,” Hanegbi told Kan public radio, also claiming that Amir had committed the murder independently from the incitement against Rabin since he already had a “fanatical ideology.”
Responding to the booing of Hanegbi, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, the education minister, 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.”
Darkenu’s Kobi Richter decried Netanyahu’s response on Sunday, saying his criticism was typical of that voiced by “extremist right-wing margins.”
He also said he regretted the booing, but added that it “didn’t ruin the rally. I knew that would happen, I didn’t expect anything else. I’ll keep trying to get us to listen to one another — most in the crowd listened and heard.”
During the rally, left-wing figures slammed Netanyahu for his conduct both before Rabin’s murder and in the present.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) told the crowd that “history is repeating itself,” with the left once again an acceptable target for right-wing hate, and Netanyahu fanning the flames: “It’s enough to read the prime minister’s posts, to see his videos, to listen to his speeches… Those who work toward peace are not traitors. 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. We’ve had it with relentless fear-mongering, 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.”
Zandberg said Netanyahu “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.”
But Hanegbi said in his speech that “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.”
Right-wing extremist 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 and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.