Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Sunday leveled harsh criticism against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing political leaders for contributing to the incendiary political rhetoric that led to the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
During a special Knesset session to mark the 21st Hebrew anniversary of Rabin’s murder that turned heated as Herzog traded barbs with Educatin Minister Naftali Bennett, the Zionist Union leader castigated Netanyahu for silencing the “hate and incitement that caused his murder.”
“We are here because in 1995, on a balcony in that square, during that march that was full of incitement, words were fired, those words eventually found the murderer, who turned them into bullets, and then fired them at our prime minister, and our democracy,” he said.
Rabin was murdered on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, during a peace rally in Tel Aviv, amid soaring national tensions over peace efforts with the Palestinians. Amir was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the handing over of control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians as a part of the Accords.
In the weeks before the assassination, Netanyahu 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.
Critics say Netanyahu — who stood with other right-wing politicians on a balcony above Zion Square as the protests unfolded beneath him, and who also marched in a Ra’anana protest as demonstrators carried a coffin behind him — ignored inflammatory rhetoric that incited to Rabin’s murder.
On Saturday, Netanyahu took to Facebook to dismiss accusations that he incited toward Rabin’s murder, calling the claims a “distortion of history.”
“You didn’t intend it to happen, but you also didn’t prevent it,” Herzog said. “For months, this wave of incitement raged, reaching all parts of the country.”
“And in recent years, especially in the last two years, this same frenzied incitement that targets public officials, entire populations and organizations, utilizes the same gunpowder, bullets and weapon as the one fired [21 years ago.]”
“Any number of future killers may be walking among us, and the responsibility to stop them and do everything possible to prevent the next murder lies first and foremost with you, Mr. Prime Minister,” he directed at Netanyahu.
“Silence is not a contagious disease, all it needs is to be legitimized. When a prime minister remains silent, so do senior ministers and it similarly follows down the chain to the whole nation,” he said.
Herzog’s speech elicited criticism from right-wing lawmakers, with Betzalel Smotritch and Uri Ariel of the nationalist Jewish Home party leaving the plenum during his address in protest.
“What you are doing here is the opposite of leadership,” Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett said in remarks that were frequently interrupted by hecklers. “Because here in this house we can disagree and we are supposed to disagree, but what you are trying to do is put the blame for the assassination on half of the population of Israel.”
The stormy memorial session at the Knesset came in the wake of several cases where government officials have sought to censure left-wing organizations and activists.
Last month, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) called for revoking the Israeli citizenship of the head of B’Tselem for speaking against Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank at the UN Security Council. Last week, Bitan said that he monitors the Facebook pages of journalists who want to impose a “left-wing agenda” through the new-but-not-yet-operating Public Broadcaster that he is working to shut down.
Following a highly critical report of Netanyahu on the influential investigative journalism program “Uvda” by Ilana Dayan, the prime minister last week released a scathing rebuke of Dayan in which he called her “a left-wing extremist” who “does not have an iota of professional integrity” and who is “one of the ring-leaders of the orchestrated attacks on…Netanyahu, which seek to bring down the right-wing government.”
Herzog during the memorial session Sunday added that: “This is our democracy — democracy that we must protect, fight for, and preserve its foundations. In our courts, in the freedom of the press, expression and thought.”
Rabin, Herzog said, was a “casualty of peace as well as a casualty in the battle for our democracy.”
“That his last words were on the erosion of the foundations of this democracy echo even more strongly today, shows that this is a lesson that we have not yet learned,” he said.
Herzog went on to urge Netanyahu to take proactive steps towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This is the moment of truth, the moment of great opportunity and a moment of great danger where blood will be spilled and we will no longer be able to separate from our neighbors,” he said.
Referencing the election of Donald Trump as US president, Herzog added, “Our identity is not derived from the identity of the individual who sits in the White House. The moment of truth is here, we must decide for ourselves. As Rabin said, the prospect of peace is better than thousands of wars.”