The Knesset held a special session this evening, Monday, in memory of the late Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, on the 26th anniversary of his assassination. Rabin’s assassination occurred on November 5, 1995, but today was its anniversary on the Hebrew calendar.
The speeches given by the Knesset leadership, however, were characterized by political attacks as much as they were dedicated to statesmanship and honoring the memory of the late prime minister.
The session at the Knesset came after the official state ceremony in memory of Rabin was held near his gravesite at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. All of Israel’s leadership was in attendance, as well as many foreign dignitaries and ambassadors.
One notable absentee at the Mount Herzl cemetery, however, was the leader of Israel’s opposition Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu did attend the ceremony when he was the Prime Minister of Israel. But this year he declined to do so and did not give a reason.
Knesset Speaker Miki Levy opened the special meeting with a minute of silence in the Knesset. He was then the first speaker of the event saying, “The three shots fired at Kings of Israel Square on the fourth night of November 95 still resonate within the walls of this house and within Israeli society, even 26 years later.”
Speaker Levy called the assassination a traumatic event that left a permanent wound in the heart of Israeli democracy that has not healed. “The trauma and shock of that gloomy night have since been accompanied by every argument and controversy we have known,” added Levy.” Something in the innocence of political life in Israel broke that night and went on forever. Because since that night we know it could happen.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also spoke at the special Knesset plenum in memory of Yitzhak Rabin. “I hope that since the assassination,” he said, “we have learned how dangerous violence is must not silence whole publics in our society, we must not vilify an entire community because an individual within it committed a crime. Neither the right assassinated Rabin nor the religious. Yigal Amir assassinated Rabin.”
Bennett added that everyone must understand that, no matter sure one may be of the righteousness of his cause, there are lines one should never cross. He also said that people must learn how to manage the debate over their differences without it leading to what happened to Yitzhak Rabin.
Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yair Lapid did not honor the diplomatic and apolitical nature of the event, making some harsh comments against his political opponents. Clearly referring to members of the opposition Religious Zionist Party which entered the Knesset the first time in the past elections, Lapid said, “Yigal Amir’s ideological descendants are sitting in the Knesset today.”
Lapid added that they would have become legitimate and become cabinet ministers if it had not been for the “miracle” of his and Naftali Bennett’s being able to form the new government.
“The last election was a referendum on democracy,” said Lapid. “On the question of whether we still want to live in a democratic regime with the rule of law, or whether we want to move to a populist, authoritarian, extremist and nationalist regime.”
Attacking his opposition as being uninterested in democracy or the unity of the nation, he said that the current political debate in Israel is not between the right and the left, but between those who believe in democracy and those who do not, those who want to unite the people, versus those who want to tear it to pieces.
Lapid went on to say that the current incitement on the part of the political right is the same as it was in 1995. He even went so far as to say that it was better to have the multiple elections over the past few years than to have multiple bullets fired from a gun.
“Rabin’s assassination was an assassination of Israeli democracy. In recent years there has been an attempt to assassinate it by other means,” added Lapid. “We prevented him at the last minute. Out of commitment, out of patriotism, out of an understanding that what happened must not be repeated. And I want to tell the anti-democratic forces that are circulating among us. We will be here for a long time.”
Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was clearly not happy with Lapid’s comments. “In a democratic regime it is the right and duty of the opposition to sharply criticize the government, but see what happens here, there is one side, it does not matter if it is in the opposition or the coalition, that everything it says and does even if these are the most extreme expressions,” he said. “The symbols of the state, and this is democracy, statehood, freedom of expression, and there is another side that also expresses legitimate positions that represent the majority of the Israeli public.”
Netanyahu went on to talk about how ever since the Rabin assassination, for the last 26 years, there have been people who the memorials for Yitzhak Rabin as a means to attack the political right in Israel.
“Over the years I have heard at these events abusive and false things about the camp I represent and also about me personally but I gritted my teeth, I restrained myself,” he said. “I have fulfilled my duty to be there as Prime Minister in accordance with the State Protocol. Of course when I came they asked why I came and now when I do not come they ask why I did not come. There are opposition leaders here who have boycotted other days of remembrance and are not talked about.”
“We treat the late Yitzhak Rabin with deep respect for his many virtues for his great contribution to Israel’s security and yet we do not hide for a moment the disagreements between us, this is statesmanship.”