Ahead of Saturday night’s annual Tel Aviv memorial marking the 19th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, his daughter Dalia Rabin-Pelossof condemned what she called the growing incitement against Israeli officials like President Reuven Rivlin, who is perceived to hold a moderate stance toward the country’s Arab minority.
Rabin said she was horrified to hear the expressions of hatred leveled at Rivlin following his appearance earlier this week at a memorial marking the 58th anniversary of the Kfar Kassem massacre, and his Knesset speech slamming racial discrimination and violence within the Jewish state.
Rabin expressed particular concern about a doctored photo showing Rivlin in an Arab keffiyeh which has been circulating on right-wing websites and social media. News of the photo was reported late last week by the Maariv (Hebrew) website; it did not give a source or credit for the image.
The photo is somewhat reminiscent of an infamous doctored image of the late Rabin in the same kind of headscarf, which was disseminated as part of a vicious incitement campaign against him following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994 and before his assassination.
“Here we are [19 years later]. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe [there’s a doctored photo circulating showing] Rivlin in a keffiyeh, like [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon [panned for pulling out of Gaza in 2005] before him. It’s time for this leadership to wake up and join those that hold democracy close to their heart,” Rabin, a former MK and deputy defense minister, told Israel Radio.
“I think it’s a prime opportunity for those from the right-wing camp to come out clearly against this incitement. I certainly expect someone who has been sitting at the head of the government for so many years to have his say [against the phenomenon],” she said in a veiled criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since taking presidential office in July, former Likud MK Rivlin has come out against what he called the prevalence of racism in Israeli society and its manifestations, including “price tag” hate-crime attacks on mosques and other Muslim sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The president has an established reputation for defending civil liberties and minority rights within the land that Israel controls. Last month, he made headlines when he notably recorded a video with an 11-year-old Arab-Israeli, George Amira, who had endured homophobic bullying at school. In the video, which went viral, Rivlin and George sit side by side in silence, holding up sheets of paper that call for an end to “violence, hostility, bullying, racism” in Israel.
“Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease,” Rivlin told a group of Israeli academics last week.
During his speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session on Tuesday, Rivlin said this summer’s conflict with Hamas brought vehement criticism and racism to the fore, and called on the politicians to speak out against it.
“During this long summer, we knew how to unite against an external enemy,” he said. “But during this summer we dedicated much time, unfortunately, to mark internal enemies as well. ‘Little Jew liar,” my critics said to me, and said: ‘May your name be obliterated, Arab agent,’ ‘Go be a president in Gaza… ‘traitor,’ ‘president of Hezbollah’ and these are only some of the voices.”
But “I am not the only one, I am not alone,” he said, “adding that “we are all equal in the face of violence.”
Rivlin decried the erosion of Jewish and democratic values, and said the Knesset members must speak out against the racism prevalent on social media, at protests, and in schools.
“We cannot be silent. Our silence is dangerous. This institution has seen very difficult discussions, even screaming…. this is the way of politics,” he said. But at this point, it is the silence “which echoes the loudest,” he said.
“When I heard Rivlin’s speech at the Knesset, my eyes teared,” Dalia Rabin said in the interview. “It’s true, we don’t hold the same political opinions, but we were always partners in keeping with the rules of a democracy.”
Earlier this week, Rivlin made history earlier this week when he attended the Kfar Kassem memorial marking the massacre, during which Israeli border police shot to death 49 Arab Israelis, among them several women and many children. He was the first Israeli president to do so.
“The Arab population in Israel is not a marginal group,” he said. “We are destined to live side by side and we share the same fate.”
The president went on to harshly condemn the massacre, calling it a “terrible crime” that weighed heavily on Israel’s collective conscience.
JTA contributed to this report.