Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his speech at the Knesset memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin on Sunday to hit back at claims made by the slain prime minister’s granddaughter earlier in the day that an official in the current Prime Minister’s Office had branded her grandfather a “traitor.”
“To my amazement, and I am still amazed, I heard today that a spokesperson at the Prime Minister’s Office published a post with a picture of Yitzhak Rabin’s handshake with Arafat in the White House under the headline ‘traitor,'” Netanyahu said, referring to the claim made by Noa Rothman, granddaughter of the late Rabin, at the official state ceremony held at Mount Herzl marking the 23rd anniversary (in the Hebrew calendar) of the assassination.
“It didn’t happen and never would,” the prime minister said, using the incident to rebuff long-made allegations that he contributed to the incendiary political climate that led to the 1995 murder.
“This is unfortunately an example of how sometimes, during the discourse on fighting incitement and moderation speech, baseless claims are made, not only against me but an entire community, that have no basis in reality,” Netanyahu said, describing the assassination of Rabin as “a national trauma to the State of Israel and a historic trauma to the people of Israel.”
Rabin was murdered on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, who 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 landmark peace agreement.
In the months preceding the assassination, political hardliners, many of them fervently religious proponents of the idea that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews, branded Rabin a traitor. Some called for his death.
In the weeks before the assassination, Netanyahu and other senior Likud members attended right-wing political rallies where protesters branded Rabin a “traitor,” “murderer,” and “Nazi” for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians earlier that year. In one infamous incident, Netanyahu, then the opposition leader, addressed a protest in downtown Jerusalem where demonstrators held posters portraying Rabin in an Arab headscarf or Nazi uniform.
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. Netanyahu has said he did not see the posters at the rally.
Rothman, known for the tearful eulogy she delivered at her grandfather’s funeral following his assassination, warned of ongoing incitement in the political area, in her Sunday speech at the Mount Herzl .
“Not a lot has changed in the 23 years that have passed… Blood could be spilled again,” she said, making the claim that recently “a spokeswoman in the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted an image of my grandfather, including the picture of the White House handshake, yes, the one with Arafat, under the description, ‘traitor’.”
Netanyahu looked visibly confused and appeared to ask President Reuven Rivlin, sitting next to him, what Rothman was referring to.
A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said that, “after checking the claim, it became clear that it referred to a tweet by a journalist not connected to the PMO.”
“This is a baseless defamation that disrespects the event,” the PMO statement continued.
Rothman was apparently referring to a tweet by Jerusalem Post and Breitbart writer Caroline Glick, who worked at the Prime Minister’s Office during Netanyahu’s first term as premier in 1996 to 1999.
In the tweet, Glick had shared an image created by the right-wing NGO, Im Tirtzu, depicting various Israeli leaders labeled by the sins Jews ask God for atonement for on Yom Kippur. The words “We have betrayed you” were written above a photo of Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shaking hands at the White House in 1993.
אני מבינה שאני הפכתי לאויבת העם של השמאל הסטליניסטי בימים האחרונים. אלדד יניב, המושחת שהביא לנו את בחירות "העמותות…
Yonatan Ben-Artzi, Rabin’s grandson, used his speech on the Hebrew anniversary of the murder to attack Netanyahu for dividing the country, arguing it would lead to Israel’s destruction.
“A leadership that encourages division and violent attacks on other opinions. He who drives and incites against anyone who thinks differently from him as a sourpuss or a leftist will lead to the destruction of the next Temple,” charged Ben-Artzi.
Ben Artzi also mentioned Netanyahu’s berating last week of a woman who had interrupted his speech to protest the closure of an emergency room in northern Israel. The prime minister responded to the heckling by telling the woman that she was “boring.”
“The citizens of the state are entitled to a leadership that cares for their needs and is not bored with them and their requirements,” he said. “A leadership that mocks and disparages those that feel distress is the source of that evil, and it will deepen the rift, division and internal conflict.”
At a separate ceremony held at the President’s Residence earlier Sunday, Rivlin lamented the current public discourse over the assassination.
“Each year we make speeches and hold ceremonies and yet we see the erosion of the centrality of the murder and what it means in Israeli public discourse,” Rivlin said.
“Our generation — which saw how a base murderer, coward and criminal, shot him [Rabin] in the back — will never heal. That generation will never forget, and never forgive, surely not forgive itself. And we, we are that generation. The generation on whose watch the murder happened,” he added.
Rivlin said the various groups in Israeli society had the right to determine how they remembered Rabin, but stressed the importance of the country marking the event together.
Earlier, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu castigated what he called incitement from the political left: “Today I heard the self-righteous and pretentious remarks by (opposition leader) Tzipi Livni and (opposition MK) Shelly Yachimovich. They said that there is no incitement from the Left. There are no calls for murder, and no hints to murder,” said Netanyahu.
“I should like to remind them about the artistic presentation at Bezalel with a noose around my neck, the guillotine in the square at the left-wing demonstrations against me, and the response to the post by Rabin’s grand-daughter who spoke today, who wrote, I quote: ‘Perhaps with the murder of Netanyahu there will be a day off.’ Incitement from every quarter must be condemned, and without hypocrisy,” he said.
Livni had accused Netanyahu of bringing the incitement into the Knesset.
“Democracy, which was supposed to have been a common denominator, has become controversial, almost a rude word. We are n longer just talking about a sign that could or could not be seen from the balcony, it’s happening here in the Knesset, it’s on the Facebook and Twitter of the prime minister,” she said, calling on Netanyahu to end legislative attempts to muzzle human rights organizations.
Yachimovich also accused him and the right of “leading the dialogue that divides and incites.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.