Thousands of candles were lit Thursday in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to mark the 25th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was shot dead by a Jewish extremist as he pursued peace with the Palestinians.
The Yitzhak Rabin Center said it lit 25,000 candles in the square where he was assassinated on November 4, 1995, after addressing a peace rally, and which is now named for him.
The exhibit builds on the Jewish tradition of lighting a candle in memory of a loved one on the anniversary of their death, as well as on memories of the many candles that were lit by teenagers and young Israelis in the days that followed the murder.
It capped 24 hours of ceremonies and events held nationwide in memory of the left-wing leader. Israel holds memorial ceremonies to mark the anniversary according to the Jewish calendar. The Hebrew anniversary this year falls on Friday, which led the events to be held a day early.
Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden honored Rabin in a tweet, calling him a “friend.”
I join Israelis in honoring Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin z"l, 25 years after his assassination. He led a life of service to his country and its security — and bravely gave his life pursuing peace. I was honored to call him a friend.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 29, 2020
Earlier in the day, during a special Knesset session marking the anniversary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said similar threats to his life and to his family were being ignored.
“Twenty-five years after the murder of Rabin, there is incitement to assassinate the prime minister and his family, and almost nobody says anything,” Netanyahu said, to jeers from some listening lawmakers.
The premier, who is facing steady pressure from protesters over criminal cases against him, did not specify what threats were being leveled against him. Police have investigated a number of threats made against Netanyahu and his family on social media, but it is unclear whether law enforcement officials consider any of them credible.
Netanyahu himself has been blamed for helping create an atmosphere of hate that led Rabin assassin Yigal Amir to pull the trigger, leaving an indelible stain on the nation.
“We must not accept incitement on any side, toward any community. Not toward Jews, not toward Arabs, not toward leaders,” Netanyahu said. “In the distant past of our people we saw national disasters when unbridled zealots carried out their own justice. If we allow marginalized people to do the same today, we will once again find ourselves on the brink of the abyss.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that in the years since Rabin was killed, incitement has returned “from the same people.”
“Rabin’s real legacy is neither peace nor war. It is trust. Rabin was a leader whose leadership was based on trust. People believed him, and therefore believed in him,” Lapid said.
“The State of Israel is in one of the most difficult moments in its history. This is not just the pandemic. This is what is happening within us. The incitement is back. The same incitement, by the same people. The division, the rift, the tribalism — everything is here. Truth and lies are given equal status. Violence is legitimate. Hatred is a political tool. A failure of leadership,” Lapid said.
In a separate event Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin lit a memorial candle in a ceremony at his residence and expressed sorrow at the divisions within Israeli society that have continued in the years following the assassination.
“I find myself wondering today about the soul of this country that Yitzhak loved so much. This year, more than ever, we gather here today and I fear that the flames within us are a danger to our home,” Rivlin said.
“Twenty-five years later, the country is divided like the Red Sea between two camps and hatred bubbles up beneath our feet. It cannot be that signs calling for the death of citizens are on display. It cannot be that journalists live under threat. It cannot be that citizens beat other citizens. It cannot be that police face severe verbal assault,” Rivlin said.
“And it cannot be that someone will consider that the assassination of a prime minister, minister, president, Knesset member, is even a possibility. It cannot be that we permit or allow the next political murder even the slightest possibility by what we say or what we fail to say, by looking or by failing to look, by actions or by inaction,” said Rivlin.
Rabin was a legendary Israeli military leader, commanding a unit in the pre-state Palmach fighting force and then rising through the ranks as a career soldier to become Israel Defense Forces chief of staff at the time of Israel’s Six Day War victory.
He then launched a political career that saw him serve two stints as prime minister.
After he was elected premier for a second time in 1992, he sought to make peace with the Palestinians, trying in vain to forge a permanent accord with PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres and Arafat for his part in signing the Oslo peace accords.
He was gunned down by Amir, an ultra-nationalist, who is now serving a life sentence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.