Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin both directly addressed — and sought to downplay — rape allegations made against slain far-right cabinet minister Rehavam Ze’evi on Tuesday, at memorial services in Jerusalem to mark 15 years since his murder by Palestinian terrorists.
The rape claims against Ze’evi recently made by women who served under him in the army “cannot be proven,” Netanyahu said during the ceremony at the Mount Herzl National Military Cemetery.
Netanyahu said allegations of misdeeds, including rape and intimidation, should not tarnish the reputation of the late minister.
“Gandhi is not here to defend himself. The right to a good name is a basic right for the living and, just as much so, for the dead,” the prime minister said, using Ze’evi’s nickname. “There is a cloud above Gandhi, but on the ground there is a legacy of achievement and action for the state, and for all this we all have to be thankful.”
Ze’evi was a member of pre-state Palmach military force and fought in the War of Independence. Following the establishment of the State of Israel he became an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, eventually reaching the position of commander of the army’s Central Command.
Entering politics following his retirement from the IDF, Ze’evi established the Moledet party, a small far-right party known primarily for advocating for the voluntary transfer of Palestinians out of the West Bank. At the time of his murder, Ze’evi was tourism minister in the government of late prime minister Ariel Sharon, another famed former general.
On October 17, 2001, Ze’evi was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at the Hyatt hotel in Jerusalem.
In a recent edition of the Israeli television show “Uvda” (Fact), Israel’s version of “60 Minutes” hosted by investigative reporter Ilana Dayan, numerous women accused Ze’evi of raping them while he was a commander in the IDF.
Echoing Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin also told attendees at the ceremony that while the claims against Ze’evi had been hard to hear, it must be remembered that “the dead do not have the ability to clear their names and cannot protest against the staining of their honor and their memory.”
Despite the recent claims, Rivlin said that Ze’evi must still be remembered for all he did “in the defense of the state, in building the state, and his devotion” to Israel.
The Knesset later Tuesday held a memorial service for Ze’evi. Dozens of opposition members boycotted the service, citing the rape allegations.
Meretz MK Michal Rozin said she would not “take part in the warping of history,” according to Hebrew media. “It’s shameful that that the plenum is honoring a man whose actions are contrary to the basic values of a civilized society.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also spoke at the plenum, telling Ze’evi’s relatives that he would continue to offer his condolences despite the “serious and difficult” accusations.
Herzog urged the government to reevaluate the naming of a memorial at the Sha’ar Hagai junction on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway for the slain minister.
Palmach Ze’evi, the minister’s son, speaking at Mount Herzl, slammed Ilana Dayan, according to the Hebrew-language Walla news site. Ze’evi called Dayan “an evil woman” for providing an outlet for the charges against his father to be aired, when he could not defend himself against them.