Addressing tens of thousands of Israelis at a Tel Aviv rally Saturday night commemorating the 24th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, would-be prime minister Benny Gantz vowed that Israel will “defeat the haters” and never capitulate to hatred. But he said some of the country’s current politicians were again trading in hatred and incitement.
Gantz, the Blue and White party chairman currently attempting to form a government following September’s elections, was the keynote speaker at the memorial event in Rabin Square. The square was renamed to honor the prime minister after he was gunned down there on November 4, 1995 by religious extremist Yigal Amir, after addressing a rally in support of his government’s peace efforts.
As it was 24 years ago, the slogan of Saturday’s gathering was “Yes to peace, no to violence.”
Echoing Rabin’s remarks 24 years ago, Gantz opened by telling the crowd, “as Rabin said, I’m also a little emotional” standing before so large a gathering at so resonant an event.
“The state of Israel will never surrender to hatred,” Gantz vowed. “The children of Israel will no longer grow up in a state some of whose leaders sanctify hatred,” he went on, without naming names.
“I won’t let hatred win. You won’t let hatred win. Israel will defeat the haters. Israel will defeat the hatred,” he promised to cheers and applause.
Gantz said Rabin was murdered because of divisions, incitement, and hatred whipped up against him. “Twenty-four years, Yitzhak Rabin is no longer with us, but incitement raises its ugly head… and hatred has again become a dangerous weapon in the hands of politicians without limits.”
If it seemed Gantz could be referring to his rival, incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was leader of the opposition at the time of the Rabin assassination, the former army chief nevertheless went on to say that incitement and hatred were “not limited” to one demographic segment or political camp.
He said such hate included that expressed against Israel’s religious citizens as well as by those who praise the far-right perpetrators of hate crimes — so-called price-tag attacks — targeting Palestinians and their property.
Calling for national unity, Gantz vowed “to stand here next year with the head of the opposition. To stand here together, even if we disagree deeply on many things, to give a joint message of Israeli hope and unity.”
“As prime minister, I will work toward and ensure that this rally becomes a state event,” he added.
Notably, unlike Rabin in his 1995 speech, Gantz, who has been careful to position himself as a political centrist rather than a leftist, made little mention of the peace process or the Palestinians, focusing his remarks on the need for internal healing.
He did say regional peace was in the interest of both Israel and “many nations around us facing the madness of extremists,” and that Rabin was “brave to sign peace agreements with our most bitter enemies.”
Both before and throughout Gantz’s speech, the crowd chanted “Who is coming, the next prime minister!” They further cheered him when he highlighted having received a mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form a government following Netanyahu’s failure to do so.
“Ten days ago, I received the mandate to form a government. A government that represents all segments of this nation, those who voted for me and those who did not. A government of unity and of reconciliation,” he said.
“A liberal unity government that accepts each and every person both as individuals and as part of a group. I am determined to form a government of internal acceptance among the factions. I am making every effort to reach out to all party leaders with one clear message: Israel is bigger and more important than any one leader,” he continued, appearing to hint at Netanyahu’s political mortality.
He then appeared to criticize the Likud leader’s government over its lackluster response to rocket fire from Gaza, which was renewed on Friday.
“In the government that I will form, we will restore deterrence, by any means available to us. Hamas leaders will be held personally responsible, Hamas headquarters will be destroyed and the time of showing restraint will come to an end if there is not complete quiet in the South,” he said.
“We will restore deterrence and we will know how to fight but we will also know how to utilize that deterrence and how to restore hope. Just as Yitzhak Rabin once did.”
The rally began with video of Rabin speaking at the peace rally held in the same spot moments before he was assassinated.
“A new reality is possible when the people really want peace and oppose violence,” Rabin was shown saying, to the cheers of the crowd. “Violence is the biggest threat to a democratic state. The Jewish State must oppose it, end it and kick it out.”
In addition to Gantz, other speakers included the director-general of the Prime Minister’s office under Rabin, Shimon Shabas, the director of a recently released film, “Incitement,” dramatizing the prime minister’s assassination, Yaron Zilberman, along with representatives from the Women Wage Peace NGO.
The Tel Aviv rally commemorating the 24th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin opens with a video of Women Wage Peace singing "We shall overcome" at Israel's borders. pic.twitter.com/2wuhvhzUEl
— Raoul Wootliff (@RaoulWootliff) November 2, 2019
Shabas said Gantz gave him hope for “uniting the people and bring new hope to Israel,” and added he believed Gantz has the “courage and resoluteness” required. “We are behind you,” he said.
“Twenty four years have passed since [Rabin’s] murder at the square and the past year saw violent, partisan discourse, similar to that which led to the assassination, reach a new peak,” organizers said in a statement.
At a Likud rally earlier this week, Bar-Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar peddled a long disproven conspiracy theory that Amir had not been Rabin’s assassin. Both Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Kedar’s remarks.
A variety of artists performed at the annual memorial rally, which regularly sees musical acts sprinkled in between speeches, including Aviv Geffen, Achinoam Nini, the Tel Aviv Youth Band, Louie Ali, Rotem Cohen and Shimon Buskila.
Singer Maor Edri had also been slated to perform but the pop-artist announced on his Instagram earlier this week that he had pulled out of the event over its “political” nature.
“When I was asked to appear at a rally in memory of the late Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, I did not think twice. I felt that the prime minister was calling on me and I got chills thinking about the dignity of the man rather than his political opinions,” Edri wrote. “But when it became clear to me that it might be a political rally, I decided to take a big step back and cancel my participation. Instead of appearing at the rally, I will go up to Mount Herzl and light a candle to honor [him].”
Edri is known for his right-wing leanings, appearing in a Likud campaign video ahead of the September election, as well as at a rally in support of Elor Azaria, a former soldier of the Israel Defense Forces who served prison time for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in Hebron.
Edri’s decision came after a Facebook post by far-right rapper and political activist Yoav “The Shadow” Eliasi in which the latter urged Edri to cancel his appearance, claiming it was not an event of national remembrance, “but an incitement rally against the right.”
Meanwhile, Labor party chairman Amir Peretz didn’t take part in Saturday’s event, though reportedly not due to lack of trying.
Channel 12 reported earlier this week that Peretz had requested to speak at the rally and that there had been negotiations behind the scenes to allow him to do so but organizers ultimately refused, deciding that Gantz would be the only current politician to address the event.
They said that Gantz, who was elected in September as the main representative of the center-left bloc and who’s been tasked with forming the next coalition, is the current figurehead representing peace and unity, according to the report.
Organizers argued that if Peretz were allowed to address the crowd, other prominent left-wing politicians such as Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz and Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of predominately Arab majority parties, would file similar requests.
Peretz, who attended the event, told Israel’s Channel 13 that his being prevented from speaking was “not important.” He vowed Labor backing for Gantz’s efforts to build a government, and said Labor would back a coalition with Likud so long as Netanyahu was not prime minister.
Interspersed between songs and speeches were short clips from Zilberman’s “Incitement,” which follows the heated atmosphere that led to Rabin’s assassination through the eyes of the killer, Amir.
Amir had opposed the Rabin-led Oslo Accords, which sought to hand over control of portions of the West Bank to the Palestinians as part of the landmark peace agreement.
“Incitement” won Best Picture at Israel’s Ophir Awards this year.