About 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv Saturday night for a memorial rally marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
President Reuven Rivlin gave the opening speech at the event, welcoming former US president Bill Clinton who spoke later, and vowing not to be silenced by extremists.
Rivlin and other speakers addressed the crowd from behind a bullet-proof glass screen, organizers said, days after Hagai Amir, brother of Rabin assassin Yigal Amir, had posted on Facebook that the president would soon “depart the world.” Hebrew media reports said the screen had been installed at the last moment, at the request of American security officials — Bill Clinton spoke at the event — and that Israel’s Shin Bet security agency had no objections.
“Welcome, chaver [friend],” said Rivlin, to cheers from the crowd, before launching into his remarks. In his eulogy for Rabin at the state funeral in Jerusalem following the assassination, Clinton memorably ended with the words “Shalom, chaver,” or “Goodbye, friend.”
Twenty years ago, Rivlin said in his remarks, the night Rabin was killed, the State of Israel, its democracy, its society and hope for a better future were all targets of the “hatred and loathing of the extreme and violent fringes of society.”
“We will not become a sacrifice on your altar of violence and fear,” Rivlin said, to loud applause.
“To those who seek to silence others, to those who threaten, to those who raise their clenched fists, to those who design pictures of SS uniforms, to those who threaten members of the legislature and judiciary, to those who threaten ministers and prime ministers, I want to say to them all: We do not fear you,” he added.
Rivlin was likely referencing recent incidents involving social media posts inciting to violence published by both leftists and rightists against Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rivlin himself.
Last week, Rivlin was the target of a Facebook post by Hagai Amir, the brother of Rabin assassin Yigal Amir, that wished death upon the president. Amir was arrested and released to house arrest pending an investigation. Earlier this month, a Ynet editor uploaded a photoshopped image of Netanyahu in a Waffen SS uniform, sparking the PM’s ire.
At the rally, Rivlin mentioned the current wave of terror attacks in which 10 Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in near-daily stabbing attacks by mainly Palestinian assailants.
“Even in the midst of the current bloodshed, even in the face of the heinous terrorism which does not distinguish between Tel Aviv and Gush Etzion, Beersheba and Kochav HaShachar, Israel’s democracy has not ceased to realize its strength and resilience, and for this we are today filled with pride,” Rivlin said.
The president also seemed to lament the lack of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians, charging that “without vision, without hope, without a dream — the people will be left desolate.”
“Two decades have gone by, and still we remain overly focused on the wounds of the past, and not enough on building the future… Too much are we focused on fear, and not enough on hope. We should have no fear. Israel’s democracy is solid enough, and we are brave and strong enough to open wide Israel’s gates, so that all the groups within us may play an equal part in shaping the character and future of the State of Israel,” he said in reference to Israel’s Arab community, which feels disenfranchised.
“We share a common Israeli dream. While we may debate the path, we are dreaming together of an Israel led by the beacon of justice; of an Israel determined to continue forward in the vision of the Prophets of Israel,” he went on.
“I love you all,” Rivlin finished, again to loud applause and cheers.
US President Barack Obama later delivered pre-recorded remarks at the rally.