Tens of thousands gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening for a rally marking the 21st anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.
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Speaking at the rally, opposition leader Isaac Herzog accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of waging war on democracy, and vowed to fight back.
Herzog, whose Zionist Union party organized the event, said: "When I see the prime minister declaring war on democracy, I say that's it. No more. The time for talks is over. The time for a unity government is over."
"Tonight we go out to war for democracy," Herzog said. "Tonight we go out to war for the state. Twenty-one years ago they promised to change, to learn a lesson, to do soul searching. Twenty-one years ago they watched over as gangs of thugs hung images of Rabin in an S.S. uniform, and they said nothing. After 21 years, they are silent again, turning a blind eye again. After 21 years, hatred rears its head, and incitement is here again. The hatred is the same hatred, the incitement is the same incitement, and the leader is the same leader."
Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union told the rally: "We have come here to prevent the next political murder. They have called too many people traitors this year. This evening is the response to our children who will ask us: 'Where were you when Israel became a country where speaking out was not allowed, a country in which peace and democracy are considered bad words?'"
"You can call us what you like," Livni said, addressing Netanyahu directly," but no one will teach us what it means to be Zionists."
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon also addressed the rally, joining the chorus of accusations against the prime minister.
"The murder was a result of an incitement machine," she said. "The prime minister who stood on the balcony and incited back then continues [to incite] to this day – against the Supreme Court, protectors of the law, human rights organizations, Arab citizens and leftists."
"Rabin was a political leader, who was murdered for political reasons, by a political person – because he believed in ending the occupation and the division of the country," she said, referring to an earlier claim by Coalition Chairman David Bitan (Likud) that the murder wasn't political.
Galon said earlier on Saturday that she was barred from speaking at the rally due to concerns that the event will be perceived as "leftist." She nevertheless addressed the rally.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Noam Tibon said at the rally that Rabin's leadership "was based on unity and cooperation and not division and incitement, a leadership style that accentuated optimism and hope and not fear and hate."
The approach of Israel's leadership today is entirely the opposite, Tibon asserted, trying to draw the Israel Defense Forces into the fray and causing harm to its chief of staff to gain "another Facebook 'like.'"
Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam had a more hopeful message.
"We are so different from one another but we are all people and must walk Rabin's path of peace and realize his vision," he told the rally. "After decades of war and hatred, we deserve to live in love and peace. We must put an end to war, before war puts an end to our lives."
'We're living a horror film'
Rabin's son, Yuval, said at an event held at Rabin Square just prior to the rally that "the gun that was fired here was a promo for the horror film that we are currently living, and which continues to claim victims."
"It all happened after a long incitement crusade, and that can't be covered up," he said at an event held by the Commanders for Israel's Security group. "There was incitement, and it continues."
The rally was organized by the Zionist Union party amid disagreement over the event's nature. Party leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni wanted it to be apolitical so as to appeal to a broad audience, in a bid to bring as many people as possible to the event. But a few party lawmakers said that the event's message should be firmly against the government and its harm to democracy.
Singers David Broza, Lea Shabat and Efrat Gosh were slated to perform.
Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said on Saturday morning that he would not be attending the rally due to "attempts to portray it as if politicians killed" Rabin.
The killing was not "a political assassination," said Bitan.
Meretz's Galon also criticized the nature of the planned rally. In a Facebook post, said that she "found it difficult to see how you can put together an apolitical rally in memory of a leader who was assassinated on political grounds."
Despite the Zionist Union's claims that it doesn’t want to turn the rally into a party event identified with the left, many posters and large balloons with the captions "Zionist Union" and "Labor" were hung across Rabin Square. Other posters accused Netanyahu of destroying Rabin's path. The stage was erected at the center of the plaza, apparently to create the feeling that the square is full and to avoid embarrassment if attendance is sparse.
It had earlier been uncertain whether it would take place due to fundraising difficulties. The Zionist Union, which took upon itself to produce the event, said that the theme of this year's rally will be the fight against the incitement and hatred led by elected officials in the Knesset and government.