Memorial Wall for Israeli PMs Ignores Rabin's Assassination, Olmert's Premiership

Defense officials were responsible for photo captions that appear to spin history in Netanyahu's favor, overlooking Peres's presidency and leaving out former prime ministers altogether

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Memorial plaques displayed in the prime minister's residence.
Memorial plaques displayed in the prime minister's residence. Credit: Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Early in September, the Defense Ministry and army held a ceremony to mark the renovation of the former prime minister’s residence at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv. On hand were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and the defense minister at the time, Avigdor Lieberman.

They walked through the house, where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once lived. It was later opened to the public.

The renovation was initiated by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who was assisted by Defense Ministry Director General Udi Adam and his ministry’s engineering and construction division.

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The project’s objective was to “remain faithful to the original look while preserving the house’s spirit,” said the project manager, Maj. Esther Spector of the Defense Ministry.

But it seems that in one aspect the conservationists strayed from this goal. At the entrance to the room where security issues were discussed, there were photos of former prime ministers and quotes from each of them.

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Eleven photos were mounted, in the sequence that they served. The 12th prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was missing.

Some essential biographical facts were also omitted, including Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and Shimon Peres’ term as president. But the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was described as “the finance minister who led extensive reforms in Israel’s economy.”

“The decision to ignore Rabin’s murder is shameful – it’s obvious that when you write about Rabin, everyone remembers the assassination,” a key official in the renovation told Haaretz.

“It’s not something that’s suddenly forgotten. If it were up to me, they’d fix it tomorrow and add what’s needed. I have nothing else to say.”

The renovated prime minister's residence. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

According to this person, the work on the written material stretched out over a long time: “They’d constantly change and remove things. They didn’t want to insult anyone, and some people were unhappy with what was written.”

The army and Defense Ministry said in a statement: “The structure is in a trial period before opening to the public. The issue of the photo captions will be examined and the necessary corrections will be made if they are required.”

Eisenkot’s people were responsible for the photo captions, and it’s not clear what they were thinking. It’s unclear what guided the noting of some details and the omission of others in describing the prime ministers.

Though Rabin’s murder went unmentioned, the Oslo Accords and the peace treaty with Jordan he signed were prominently displayed.

With Peres, there was an emphasis on earlier achievements when he was director general of the Defense Ministry. Mentioned were the building of the nuclear reactor and the development of Israel’s military industries, but most of his cabinet positions and his term as president were omitted.

Regarding Ehud Barak, it was mentioned that he led the withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon in 2000. And it was noted that Ariel Sharon led the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank in 2005.

In these cases, the conservationists chose to focus on significant events during the terms of these prime ministers, but nothing is said about Netanyahu’s term.

During the 13 years he has been in power, many things have happened, including the November 2012 air offensive in Gaza – Operation Pillar of Defense – and the 2014 Gaza war, Operation Protective Edge. But these went unmentioned.

The Defense Ministry chose to focus on Netanyahu’s earlier record, when he served as finance minister and opposition leader, a detail not mentioned for other prime ministers such as Peres and Sharon.

The opposition has criticized the memorial wall, noting the details that are mentioned and those not. “Netanyahu has made one further step in distorting history, shaping it in his own image,” said MK Merav Michaeli (Labor).

“He, who led the incitement that resulted in Rabin’s murder, and who continued doing so against people continuing in Rabin’s path, is now trying to erase the murder, the peace treaties and Peres’ presidency.”

Michaeli added that the involvement of the Defense Ministry in the caption project is “puzzling and of concern.” She called on those responsible to “immediately correct this wrong.”

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