Archive of anti-Rabin Posters Captures Ugly Mood in Lead-up to Assassination

Pamphlets detail the mood in the street in the months before Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination, and chronicles the last major political protest that wasn’t fought online.

National Library Collection

The National Library in Jerusalem houses an archive collection of anti-Yitzhak Rabin pamphlets that were distributed during demonstrations and posted on walls in the months leading up to the then-prime minister’s assassination in 1995. It is possible to learn about the hatred and incitement of the time from them, as well as about the last major political protest that took place on the streets and not online.

The infamous pamphlet showing Rabin dressed as an SS officer and the poster of him with a kaffiyeh on his head have already become staple ingredients of any article, movie or lesson dealing with the incitement that preceded his death. But those, as well as the coffin carried by the protesters against Rabin, are only two of the most radical examples of the entire incitement campaign that preceded the murder.

The pamphlets are part of the library’s collection of ephemera – printed matter that was intended to quickly and effectively convey political messages to the wider public in the days before the Internet.

“We’re talking about more than 20 years ago, when there weren’t social networks and the Internet was not the mass means of communication it is today,” said Dr. Hezi Amior, the library’s chief curator.

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“It was the last time a mass struggle was conducted in the streets, by means of printed information sent by post, distributed at demonstrations and posted on walls and bulletin boards, as well as car stickers.”

One of the pamphlets depicts Rabin washing his hands, which are dripping with blood. Above the image is a picture of Rabin’s famous 1993 handshake with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

“Rabin! You’ll never be able to clean yourself of the blood on Arafat’s hands,” reads the caption. Also, “Yitzhak Rabin – with a hand like that – how do you sleep at night?”

That pamphlet was the work of a group calling itself Headquarters of the Struggle for the Cancellation of the Autonomy Plan. Unlike other items of incitement, the group did not try to hide; it provided an address and telephone number for those wishing to join.

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Amior called the pamphlet “the most appalling” one in the collection. “The fact that it’s not anonymous, like others, indicates that it was considered legitimate among the protesters.”

Another pamphlet from the same organization calls on the public to “eliminate the peace scam.” There’s also a flyer warning that “the day will come when the guilty – Rabin, [Shimon] Peres, [Yossi] Sarid, [Yossi] Beilin and their comrades – will stand before an Israeli court and pay the price for their collaboration with the terrorist enemy.”

Not all the material in the collection deals with direct incitement, however. Other pamphlets pose a greater challenge to the limits of legitimate protest. One, produced anonymously, is headlined, “Arab Zionism replaces Jewish Zionism.” Underneath are sketches of four Zionist symbols: New immigrants descending from an El Al plane; generals making their way to the Western Wall; a JNF collection box; and a settlement – except, rather than Jews, the sketches depict Arabs. People wearing kaffiyehs and masks are descending from the El Al plane with the Palestinian flag in their hands; Arafat, not Rabin, is on his way to the Western Wall; “National Fund for Ishmael” is written on the JNF box; and Arab families are arriving at the settlement.

“We collected a large amount of material, both before and after the murder, with the emphasis on material from the street,” explained Amior. “When it comes to political struggle against the government, the street speaks.”

Many of the pieces are anonymous, including the famous ones of Rabin as an SS officer and in a kaffiyeh.

“No one signed them,” said Amior. “The objective of those who produced them was to avoid political or organizational identification – exactly like the ultra-Orthodox posters in Mea She’arim, which are mostly unsigned.”

In addition to their research value, the pamphlets are witnesses to the end of an era. “There was a time when people walked in the streets and collected these pamphlets for us,” said Amior. “It’s very important to save this material, because there is nothing better for us to understand the spirit of the times. But today, the true pamphlets are on the Internet.”