The memorial rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last year.
A memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in 2011. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Text size

Two commemoration ceremonies are being planned for Yitzhak Rabin this year, as two groups wrangle over the proper focus of the event, with each one claiming to hold the "central rally" in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

"In recent years the memory of Rabin's murder has been obscured and blurred in Israeli society," says Uri Matoki of Dror-Israel, organizer of the alternative rally. "When there's no desire to shape a relevant message, the commemoration is restricted to Rabin the man. Any ideological, critical or moral statement has disappeared from the [traditional] rally. In this format it will die completely in a few years."

Hemi Sal, producer of the traditional rally, says he does not understand the split. "Aren't we political?" he says, adding that last year Yossi Sarid and Hagit Ofran (a Peace Now activist victimized by "price tag" attacks ) addressed the audience. "It was a very powerful, significant rally, as were others in the past. Everyone remembers David Grossman and his 'hollow leadership' speech after the Second Lebanon War. To say we're fleeing from politics is simply not true," says Sal.

At first glance, both invitations posted on Facebook for the annual Rabin commemoration seem identical. Both feature Rabin's picture with the Israeli flag behind him, say 17 years have passed since the assassination and claim to represent the "central rally" in Tel Aviv.

On the invitations, at least, Only the slogans and dates are different. One invitation says "Remembering the murder - fighting for democracy." The other says, "Yes to peace, no to violence." Both rallies' organizers say they are the true representatives of "Rabin's heritage."

The traditional rally - like its predecessors to be held on the Saturday evening closest to the November 4 anniversary of the assassination, will take place on November 3, while the alternative rally will be held the previous Saturday evening, October 27.

By yesterday some 2,600 people said on the Internet that they would take part in the rival rally, while some 1,400 said they would attend the traditional one. About 10,000 people took part in last year's rally.

The rival rally's organizers - Dror-Israel, the organization of Hanoar Ha'oved Vehalomed youth movement graduates - have been joined by Hashomer Hatzair youth movement graduates and a number of social protest activists. Journalist Rino Tzror is to host the event.

The dissatisfaction with the traditional rally grew over the years until a few months ago the organization decided to hold a separate event.

"We want to focus on the incitement processes that led to Rabin's murder and their relevant context and implications," says Matoki. "There must be direct mention of the 'price tag' attacks [carried out by extreme rightists against Palestinians and peace activists], of the link between the demonstration against Rabin in Jerusalem's Zion Square with Benjamin Netanyahu watching from the balcony and the attempted lynch on the Arab youth a few weeks ago," he says.

"The same groups continue to incite. The lessons from the murder have not been learned. The organizers evaded the fundamental issues and failed to make use of the first, critical years after the murder," he says.

Despite all this, the attempt to make peace with the Palestinians - Yigal Amir's pretext to murder Rabin - will be mentioned, but not emphasized in the rally. This is due to the desire to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, he says.

The October rally attempting to redefine "Rabin's memory" will mention Rabin but "without nostalgia," says Matoki.

"Previous rallies tried to portray him as perfect. Our story focuses on a prime minister's murder and the processes that led to it," he says.

Earlier this week the organizers of the traditional ceremony met for the first coordination meeting. They included members of the kibbutz movement, the National Students Union, the pro-universal conscription group Hamahane Hameshutaf, the Rabin Pre-Military Academy, the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and social protest activists.

"We've always been attacked for the political emphases. All the subjects the organizers of the other rally say are so important were in our rally too. We have a broad, shared world view," said Sal.

The rival rally merely confuses the public, he continues: "I offered to unite both ceremonies under the slogan 'Yes to peace, no to violence,' but they refused."

Others say the alternative rally is meant to bypass the decision of the traditional event's organizers not to let politicians speak, and thus to enable Labor Party leader MK Shelly Yacimovich to address the crowd in the square. But Matoki says they have not asked Yacimovich to speak at the rally.

"The question is what makes a certain rally the central one and who has a monopoly on Rabin's heritage?" says Matoki. "What's wrong with two rallies? It's not a state event."

Sal hopes the rival rally will serve as a promo for the traditional one.

About a year ago Dalia Rabin told Merav Michaeli in Haaretz that the rally's format "has exhausted itself" and the rally was becoming increasingly cut off from Rabin's memory. Each time organizers had to "reinvent the wheel" and find a central theme for the rally, she said. "It became somewhat forced, as far as I'm concerned," said Rabin.