Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday accused others of exploiting a Yitzhak Rabin memorial ceremony for political ends, adding that he never called Rabin a traitor, he merely said he was wrong.
Speaking at the Knesset following the annual ceremony for the slain prime minister on Mount Herzl, Netanyahu said some people used the event for "a blatant and shameful political lashing-out."
Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, also speaking at the Knesset, mentioned incitement against public officials. "At this time, some public officials are leading a delegitimization campaign whose possible result is the disintegration of Israeli society," Gantz said.
At Mount Herzl, Rabin's grandson, Yonatan Ben-Artzi, urged Netanyahu and other party leaders to “take responsibility for your actions …. If you are stained, move aside, leave office. Go home and deal with the personal claims against you.”
Netanyahu said at the ceremony that before Rabin was assassinated 24 years ago, he liked and respected Rabin “because I knew that he acted according to his conscience. He was an Israeli patriot.”
Netanyahu said Rabin believed that the Oslo Accords had to be given a chance and that “I also acted according to my conscience as opposition leader.”
Discussing the political divide in the period before Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu said the debate was “above all legitimate and necessary. What was not legitimate was to call [Rabin] a traitor or murderer.”
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Netanyahu said that over the years he has heard “the false claim that when a group of zealots called Yitzhak Rabin [names such as traitor] I stood aside, was silent, didn’t respond and even encouraged it …. But a lie repeated many times does not become the truth …. What I said then was that Rabin was wrong, but he was not a traitor. We are one people.”
President Reuven Rivlin urged people not to “believe the foolish words marginal voices, bizarre and insane. Don’t believe those who speak post-truth, alternative facts and alternative theories. Post-truth means a lie and an alternative fact is fraud …. Don’t lend a hand to those who seek with all their might to start a fire.”
Late last month a faculty member at Bar-Ilan University’s Arabic Department, Mordechai Kedar, said Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, was not actually the culprit.
On Sunday, Rivlin said “we must not continue to use the murder to gain points in the political debate. We must not use the trauma, the pain, to clash with the ideology of the opposing camp.”
Rivlin bemoaned the “terrible price of the foolishness of political violence” and asked: “What is the message that our boys and girls hear today? Can we manage on this day, only on this day, once a year, for a girl from Haifa to hear the same thing as a boy from Bnei Brak, the same message heard by a girl from Shfaram that a boy from Elkana hears?” Rivlin was referring to communities with large secular, ultra-Orthodox, Muslim and settler populations, respectively.
Rivlin said that Israelis should stop isolating themselves in their own ideologies and identities, and that the day for remembering Rabin's murder should be a day “of taking responsibility together based on a shared memory, the memory of the murder and the memory of the abyss beneath it.”
Earlier Sunday, Rivlin opened the day's memorial events at the President’s Residence; in a speech, he wondered whether in Israel today a person could be killed for his or her opinions or actions, and conceded that he did not know.
Rivlin warned of the continuing rift in Israeli society and said that “we must do everything so that the slaughtering knife will not be raised again against any of us because of a political opinion, whether it’s a prime minister, president, minister, Knesset member, journalist or ordinary citizen.”
Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin, said at the President’s Residence that “5 percent of Israelis say openly that Yigal Amir was right. For years we’ve loved to tell ourselves that the entire nation mourned over the murder of a prime minister by a Jewish assassin. That’s not true. In many places there were outbursts of joy.”
Rabin said she believed that the political situation today is worse than it was at the time, and that Israeli society is “suffering from violent antidemocratic tendencies.” She also mentioned the conspiracy theory according to which Amir did not kill the prime minister.
“There is no choice – the obvious has to be said from every platform: The prime minister was murdered by a Jewish assassin who confessed, reenacted the crime, was convicted, was sentenced and did not withdraw his confession. He did not express regret or apologize.”