Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said threats to his life and to his family were being ignored, during a special Knesset session to mark 25 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin Thursday.
“Twenty-five years after the murder of Rabin, there is incitement to assassinate the prime minister and his family, and almost nobody says anything,” Netanyahu said, to jeers from some listening lawmakers.
The premier, who is facing steady pressure from protesters over criminal cases against him, did not specify what threats were being leveled against him. Police have investigated a number of threats made against Netanyahu and his family on social media, but it is unclear whether law enforcement officials considered any of them credible.
Netanyahu’s comments came as Israel marked 25 years since the November 4, 1995, assassination of prime minister Rabin, by right-wing gunman Yigal Amir. The Likud leader himself has been blamed for helping create an atmosphere of hate that led Amir to pull the trigger, leaving an indelible stain on the nation.
“We must not accept incitement on any side, toward any community. Not toward Jews, not toward Arabs, not toward leaders,” Netanyahu said Thursday, the day before the Hebrew anniversary of Rabin’s death.
“In the distant past of our people we saw national disasters when unbridled zealots carried out their own justice,” Netanyahu said. “If we allow marginalized people to do the same today, we will once again find ourselves on the brink of the abyss.”
The prime minister also said that political violence should be condemned on all sides, noting especially the danger of unchecked incitement on social media.
“We must all condemn the destructive effects of incitement and strongly condemn the actual manifestations of political violence from any camp. A burst of gunfire in a city square was not and will not be a substitute for a ballot box,” Netanyahu said.
“Democracy depends on the media not being subject to one and the same voice,” the prime minister said. “This is the greatness of social networks. They make an important contribution to democracy, but even there, there must be no incitement to murder and violence from any side. An atmosphere of silencing political opponents is also a danger to a free society.”
Amir shot Rabin to death at the end of an event in Tel Aviv called to highlight opposition to violence and to showcase public support for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has long been accused of playing a part in the incitement against Rabin prior to his death. The premier has regularly rebuffed the allegations and has characterized them as a form of “political assassination.”
In the weeks before the assassination, Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, and other senior Likud members attended a right-wing political rally in Jerusalem where protesters branded Rabin a “traitor,” “murderer” and “Nazi” for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians earlier that year.
However, Netanyahu on Thursday defended himself, saying it was his duty to express his opposition to the Oslo Accords.
“I asserted my right to express a different position. It was not only my right, but also my duty,” Netanyahu said. “I vehemently opposed the calls of ‘traitor’ directed toward him but I thought he was wrong and mistaken in the direction he took. It was an error to make peace with the enemy.”
Following the speech, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who heckled Netanyahu and was removed from the plenum, expressed outrage at the prime minister’s speech.
“It hurts to sit in the plenum in tears over Yitzhak Rabin, the way he was murdered, and to hear that for Netanyahu, actually he is the victim,” Zandberg tweeted.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that in the years since Rabin was killed, incitement has returned “from the same people.”
“Rabin’s real legacy is neither peace nor war. It is trust. Rabin was a leader whose leadership was based on trust. People believed him, and therefore believed in him,” Lapid said.
“The State of Israel is in one of the most difficult moments in its history. This is not just the pandemic. This is what is happening within us. The incitement is back. The same incitement, by the same people. The division, the rift, the tribalism — everything is here. Truth and lies are given equal status. Violence is legitimate. Hatred is a political tool. A failure of leadership,” Lapid said.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin warned that incitement and hatred perhaps had even worsened in the years after the killing.
“Brotherly hatred, wild incitement, as well as violence, have not passed from our world. Maybe the opposite is true,” Levin said. “We are witnessing these days, polarization, a heated debate, and an atmosphere that there is no place for, even when there are deep disagreements.”
Earlier in the day, President Reuven Rivlin lit a memorial candle in a ceremony at his residence, and expressed sorrow at the divisions within Israeli society that have continued in the years following the assassination.
“I find myself wondering today about the soul of this country that Yitzhak loved so much. This year, more than ever, we gather here today and I fear that the flames within us are a danger to our home,” Rivlin said.
“Twenty-five years later, the country is divided like the Red Sea between two camps and hatred bubbles up beneath our feet. It cannot be that signs calling for the death of citizens are on display. It cannot be that journalists live under threat. It cannot be that citizens beat other citizens. It cannot be that police face severe verbal assault,” Rivlin said.
“And it cannot be that someone will consider that the assassination of a prime minister, minister, president, Knesset member, is even a possibility. It cannot be that we permit or allow the next political murder even the slightest possibility by what we say or what we fail to say, by looking or by failing to look, by actions or by inaction,” said Rivlin.
Rabin was a legendary Israeli military leader, commanding a unit in the pre-state Palmach fighting force and then rising through the ranks as a career soldier to become Israel Defense Forces chief of staff at the time of Israel’s Six Day War victory.
He then launched a political career that saw him serve two stints as prime minister.
After he was elected premier for a second time in 1992, he sought to make peace with the Palestinians, trying in vain to forge a permanent accord with PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres and Arafat for his part in signing the Oslo peace accords.