Some 85,000 people turned out at the annual rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday marking the 22nd anniversary of the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, which this year tried to emphasize national unity rather than its traditional focus on peace.
The rally was held under the slogan “We are one people.” It included a variety of speakers — but no party political leaders — including former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit and local municipality leaders alongside representatives of the ultra-Orthodox and settler communities.
Orthodox right-wing extremist Yigal Amir shot Rabin to death on Nov. 4, 1995, at the end of an event the then-prime minister held to demonstrate public support for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians. In the following days, and every year since on the Saturday nearest to the anniversary date, thousands of Israelis have gathered in Rabin Square, as it was renamed, to pay their respects.
This year’s rally was organized by the Darkenu movement and Commanders for Israel’s Security, two centrist advocacy groups that support “separation” from the Palestinians as part of a two-state solution.
The new organizers shifted the emphasis to promoting national unity. While many Israelis have welcomed the change, some on the political left have condemned it as an attempt to gloss over the assassination.
While the rally was held in the name of national unity, a number of participants noted the continued sharp divides in Israeli society.
“You have to say that the divisions that were in our society 22 years ago are still here,” Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio at the rally. “I am today committed to both parts of the program; no to violence and yes to peace.”
Ramat Gan resident Tal Yosher said while he welcomed all who came to the rally, including residents of the West Bank, he said they carried more responsibility for Rabin’s murder.
“There was too much worry about making the other side feel comfortable here,” Yosher told The Times of Israel, referencing the theme of unity.
Although no representatives from political parties were invited to speak at this year’s rally, the left-leaning Labor and Meretz parties flew banners and flags, as did the anti-settlement group Peace Now.
As one of the Darkenu leaders spoke, a group of activists from the Labor party chanted “No, no no, we will never forget who incited and who killed.”
And when Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi spoke, he was received with loud boos and drumming from young left wing activists. However, behind the activists were hundreds who applauded Revivi when he mentioned his decision to speak despite those in his camp that pressured him not to.
“Despite the protesting voices in Tel Aviv, And I know there were some,
the organizers of the rally extended their hand and invited me to speak on this platform,” Revivi said. “And despite the protesting voices on the mountain, and you know there were some, I came down to the square.”
“In Judea and Samaria there live today half a million Israeli citizens. Half a million citizens, a wind turbine that produce a lot of energy, that are connected to the history of the Jewish people. That have deep roots in our soil,” he said.
After Revivi finished his speech, one of the people who booed him loudly was approached by a group of teenagers who told her she was disrespecting the rally’s unifying message. The jeerer, 64-year-old Tel Aviv resident Dorit Katz, said that Revivi glossed over his camp’s responsibility in Rabin’s murder. “Yigal Amir was a product of their radical rabbis who the leaders of those communities, like him (Revivi) did nothing to preven,” she said.
One of the teen’s who had reprimanded Katz, who identified himself as Raphi, said that some in the crowd simply were unable to move on. “It’s possible to learn the message of Rabin’s murder without always saying ‘it was your fault!'”
Likud MK Yehudah Glick, who had campaigned aggressively over the past week to bring as many people from his political camp to the rally as possible, said he was happy with the atmosphere. “We are one nation. The organizers promised (to keep the message apolitical) and they have kept their word, delivering unifying speeches,” he told The Times of Israel.
The rally began at 7:30 p.m. Streets in the vicinity of Rabin Square were closed from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m, including sections of Ibn Gabirol St., King David Blvd., Gordon St. and Arlozorov St.
Former IDF General Amnon Reshef, the head of Commanders for Israel’s security, said at the rally that separating from the Palestinians is necessary to ensure Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state.
“The Palestinians are not going anywhere and we are here forever. This reality calls for a separation from the Palestinians. Only in this manner can we safeguard Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Reshef.
However, the organizer’s welcoming attitude has upset some Israeli leftists, who said Rabin’s assassination was inherently political and should be remembered as such. They also pointed out that the advertisement for the rally did not even mention that Rabin was assassinated.
“A foreigner reading that weird, misleading ad might think that Rabin died peacefully in bed, after retiring, and now the gang is getting together to have a little sing-along and share fond, amusing memories,” lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich of the center-left Zionist Union political alliance wrote on Facebook. “Well, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. M-u-r-d-e-r-e-d. It was a political assassination designed to eliminate an elected political leader and to change the path of the nation by that murder.”
She added that the assassination should be taught to everyone, not just those in Rabin’s “political camp,” but that the advertisement did the opposite.
“This ad denies that memory to everyone – erases it, whitewashes it and hides it,” Yachimovich said. “It’s an embarrassing ad that reeks of fear. There’s still time until the rally to recover and remember.”
The rally, which has become the main commemoration event for Rabin, was long organized by an alliance of youth groups and social organizations. But last year, the alliance opted to instead hold round-table discussions in the country’s major cities. The Labor Party, in which Rabin spent his political career, stepped in at the last-minute to save the rally from cancellation. This year, Darkenu and Commanders for Israel’s Security took over.
Dweck said it was an “honest mistake” not to explicitly refer to Rabin’s assassination in advertising the rally, and on Tuesday he made sure the language was changed to say, “A mass rally in memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin marking 22 years since his murder.”
But he accused members of the Israeli left of nursing anger at the settlement movement, some of whose leaders incited against Rabin and helped inspire Amir. Since Rabin’s death, the Israeli public’s faith in peace with the Palestinians has dwindled and settlers have helped push Israeli politics rightward. But Dweck said he still expects leftists to show up at the rally.
“Everyone here wants peace and security and better lives,” he said. “We just have to respect one another and understand each other’s challenges.”
JTA contributed to this event.