Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded barbs with a grandson of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during annual memorial ceremonies held in Jerusalem Sunday, accusing him of politicizing the events by calling on the premier to resign.
State memorial events were held on the anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was shot dead by a Jewish religious extremist, Yigal Amir 24 years ago, according to the Hebrew calendar.
At an official ceremony at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, Rabin’s grandson Yonatan Ben Artzi urged Netanyahu to resign over the three criminal cases against him.
“This is the time to take responsibility, to lead by example,” Ben Arzi said. “If there is a stain on your character, move aside, resign from your roles.”
Ben Artzi recalled that Rabin had resigned as prime minister in 1977 during an earlier stint in office, after it was discovered that he and his wife had maintained bank accounts in Washington, an arrangement illegal at the time under Israeli law. They were both fined.
“Even though he believed wholeheartedly that he was the right person to lead [the country], he decided to take personal responsibility and resign his position,” Ben Artzi said. “To make a painful personal concession, for the sake of Israeli democracy, so that it will not be stained.”
Netanyahu shot back at Ben Artzi during a memorial ceremony held in the Knesset later in the day.
“To my regret, this year too there were those who decided to exploit the state memorial service for blatant and shameful political attacks, which more than anything else harm the memory of Yitzhak Rabin,” Netanyahu told the plenum.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to decide by the end of the month on whether or not to press charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three of the cases against Netanyahu, and an additional charge of bribery in one of the cases.
Earlier in the day, at Mount Herzl, Netanyahu pushed back against longstanding allegations that, as head of the opposition in 1995, he did not speak out forcibly enough against inflammatory right-wing rhetoric in the lead-up to Rabin’s assassination.
“In the years since the murder I’ve heard the false claim that when a fanatical member of the [national] camp who opposed [the] Oslo [Accords] called Rabin a traitor, I stood by, was silent and even supportive. I’ve heard this at almost every memorial, but this lie, which has been repeated many times, doesn’t become the truth,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony in Jerusalem.
“This is what I said on countless platforms at the time: Rabin is not a traitor,” he stressed. “He was in the wrong, but not a traitor.”
President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke before Netanyahu at Mount Herzl, warned against turning the memory of Rabin’s murder into a political cudgel.
“We must not continue to use the murder to score points in the political discourse. We must not use the trauma, the pain, to fight the opposing camp’s ideology,” he said. “If we are not able to remember together, to grieve together, this assassination, this act of political violence, what will become of us?” the president asked.
Rivlin also cautioned against conspiracy theories about the Rabin’s murder, some of which question whether Amir really fired the fatal shots. His remarks came after recent comments by a professor who floated a conspiracy claim that convicted killer Yigal Amir wasn’t the real assassin.
“Do not believe the absurd, strange and insane voices of the fringes,” Rivlin said. “Do not believe those who speak about post-truth, alternative facts and new theories. Post-truth means lies, and alternative facts are fraud. Do not be tempted to believe that these voices are representative.”
Amir, who was filmed shooting Rabin, confessed to the act and has never recanted his testimony.
Thousands are expected to gather this evening at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv — where the murder took place on November 4, 1995– and take part in discussions.
The annual commemoration rally at Rabin Square was held a week ago. Addressing tens of thousands of Israelis last Saturday night, would-be prime minister Benny Gantz vowed that Israel would “defeat the haters” and never capitulate to hatred.
But he said some of the country’s current politicians were again trading in hatred and incitement.
Gantz, the Blue and White party chairman currently attempting to form a government following September’s elections, was the keynote speaker at the memorial event. The square was renamed to honor the prime minister after he was gunned down following a rally in support of his government’s peace efforts.
Jacob Magid and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.