‘Leadership failure’: Gantz rebukes Netanyahu for planning to skip Rabin memorial

Opposition MK says PM must ‘do the right thing’ and honor assassinated leader’s memory at Mount Herzl even if protests are likely; Labor head: ‘Ceremony more dignified without him’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz. (Yonatan Sindel, David Cohen/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Gantz. (Yonatan Sindel, David Cohen/Flash90)

Benny Gantz, the head of the opposition National Unity party, assailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday over reports that he will boycott next month’s annual state ceremony in memory of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Channel 12 and Haaretz cited unnamed associates of the premier confirming he will skip the event and saying it had become “political.”

Netanyahu, who has been facing persistent protests against his hardline coalition at almost all public events he attends in Israel and abroad, would be the first sitting premier to boycott the ceremony at the Great Leaders of the Nation’s Plot in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery.

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.

On Tuesday, Gantz reacted to the decision on X, formerly Twitter, branding it “anti-stately” and “a leadership failure.”

“No matter how much criticism he will receive, the prime minister of Israel must do the right thing, respect the memory of a prime minister who was murdered, and show up for the ceremony,” he wrote. “If not in the name of his personal duty, then in the name of the State of Israel and all Israeli citizens.”

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak also criticized Netanyahu, blaming him for the incitement that led to Rabin’s murder and accusing him of having “never abandoned your ideological partners” in the far-right, referring apparently to current senior coalition members Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and Avi Maoz.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks at a memorial rally for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Zion Square in Jerusalem, October 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In contrast, Labor party leader Merav Michaeli welcomed Netanyahu’s absence and said the ceremony would benefit from it.

“A good decision by Netanyahu, for a change,” she said. “There is no reason for the man who incited against Rabin to attend the memorial ceremony for Rabin’s murder. The ceremony will be more dignified and stately without him.”

According to Monday’s reports, the Prime Minister’s Office updated the organizers of the October 26 ceremony in recent days that there was no need to reserve a seat for Netanyahu at this year’s event.

The outlets 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.

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 allegedly led to the killing.

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)

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 downtown Jerusalem 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 Michaeli ripped into Netanyahu for 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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