'Could a political murder happen today? I don't know'

On anniversary of Rabin’s murder, Rivlin warns of ‘violent’ political climate

At official memorial, president cautions of ‘slippery slope between incitement and hate to bloodshed’; slain PM’s daughter decries conspiracies surrounding assassination

President Rivlin at a ceremony to mark 23 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, October 21, 2018 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Rivlin at a ceremony to mark 23 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, October 21, 2018 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

State memorial events were held Sunday commemorating the Hebrew-calendar anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin 24 years ago, with President Reuven Rivlin warning that the current political discourse was reminiscent of the hateful climate that had preceded the murder.

“The days before Rabin’s murder were days of intense and legitimate public debate, that descended in some cases to criminal incitement and defamation that motivated the murderer to try and assassinate Israeli democracy,” Rivlin said at an event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“Could a political murder happen today as well? I don’t know,” the president continued. “The political culture from left to right is rife with alienation, with rifts replacing discussion and debate. Political discourse can’t be conducted with violence.

“We mustn’t forget the slippery slope from incitement and hate to bloodshed. We must do everything to ensure the slaughtering knife isn’t raised again. I turn to all political camps, right and left — don’t fuel hate, it is not the Israeli nation’s way,” implored the president.

Dalia Rabin, the former leader’s daughter, used her speech to decry recent comments by a professor peddling a conspiracy claim that convicted killer Yigal Amir wasn’t the real murderer.

Amir, who was filmed shooting Rabin, confessed to the act and has never recanted his testimony.

Dalia Rabin at a ceremony announcing the winners of the Wolf Foundation award, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We, who were left to fight the battle of preserving [Rabin’s] legacy, stand before a complex reality that makes it very difficult,” Dalia Rabin said. “One-third of the country believes a conspiracy, one-fifth says out loud that the murderer’s conviction is flawed.

“Something is definitely flawed,” she said. “In many ways, not only did we not learn the lessons from the prime minister’s murder — our situation today is worse. Social media enables all restraint to be eliminated.”

Rabin’s daughter cautioned: “We cannot anymore say the writing is not on the wall: Israeli society suffers from anti-democratic, violent trends. It is not on the margins.”

“For years we have been saying the whole nation mourned, but many places had outbursts of joy. It was once inappropriate to say that; today it’s okay, accepted. At the Rabin Center we meet students who say it’s a good thing Rabin was murdered,” she lamented.

A state memorial ceremony was to be held later in the day, followed by a special Knesset ceremony. Thousands are expected to gather during the evening at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv — where the 1995 murder took place — and take part in discussions.

Yigal Amir reenacts the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv. (Government Press Office)

The events were to be attended by politicians, journalists who were working on the day of the murder, relatives of terror and hate crime victims, culture figures, religious, secular and Arab educators, a Shin Bet agent who questioned the assassin Yigal Amir on the night of the murder, and Rabin’s national security adviser Haim Asa.

Schools around the country were holding events marking the murder’s anniversary, as were units of the Israel Defense Forces. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi wrote a letter to soldiers Sunday  urging troops to “respect each other out of the understanding that we all have a common goal — defending the State of Israel and preserving its security. We should leave social debates out of the army.”

The annual commemoration rally at Rabin Square was held a week ago. Addressing tens of thousands of Israelis 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.

Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz speaks at a rally marking 24 years since the assassination of late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on November 2, 2019 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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 there on November 4, 1995, by religious extremist Yigal Amir, after addressing a rally in support of his government’s peace efforts.

As it was 24 years ago, the slogan of Saturday’s gathering was “Yes to peace, no to violence.”

“The State of Israel will never surrender to hatred,” Gantz vowed. “The children of Israel will no longer grow up in a state some of whose leaders sanctify hatred,” he went on, without naming names.

Though it seemed Gantz could be referring to his rival, incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was leader of the opposition at the time of the Rabin assassination, the former army chief nevertheless went on to say that incitement and hatred were “not limited” to one demographic segment or political camp.

Jacob Magid and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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