Analysis

Rabin Memorial Rally Organizers Don’t Understand They're Living in a Divided Country

There was a disconnect between the sentiments of the crowd and the memorial's content, and the effort to portray a mood of reconciliation between left and right was indecent and pathetic

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi speaking at the 23rd memorial marking the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Tel Aviv, November 3, 2018
Tomer Applebaum

It’s difficult to describe the disconnect that prevailed most of the evening between the program content at Saturday’s event organized by Darkenu in Tel Aviv, marking the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the crowd that turned out for the event and its sentiments.

The disconnect was evident, for example, in the overlong but decisive speech delivered by opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who undermined the strained unity messages of the rally itself. Ironically, it was also present in the speech by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, whose speech I only heard fragments of because it was drowned out by whistling and jeers from the crowd.

And then there were also moments of truth, of convergence between the people on stage and those in the crowd, which lessened the embarrassment. It was apparent in the way the crowd supported Livni’s remarks and in its fury at Hanegbi, representing the right wing.

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The moderate majority is waking up and coming to the square, the Darkenu movement declared repeatedly before the rally. The organization’s CEO, Polly Bronstein, wrote the following in an article published before the event: “This year, we decided to invite to the podium of the annual memorial event for Rabin the very politicians who represent the varied views of the murder, what preceded it and what happened after it.” She also wrote the following: “Rabin’s murder doesn’t belong to anyone and at the same time belongs to all of us.”

Darkenu Chairman Kobi Richter, whose speech was repeatedly interrupted by blaring horns of people insistent on spoiling the party he put on (in part) to honor himself, declared from the podium he was happy to see both secular and religious people, both rightists and leftists, and so forth. I’ve been at several right-wing demonstrations, most of them led by the religious Zionist movement. I’m willing to risk stating with certainty that among the crowd in Rabin Square on Saturday night, I didn’t see one single rightist or one single religious person.

There was no majority, no moderates and no other such bull. The people who were present in the square – which was much less crowded than it was during either the LGBT demonstration or the Druze demonstration against the nation-state law earlier this year – were grieving, angry leftists who came to honor the memory of their last leader and felt that they had to do something against the right-wing government’s pincers movement which is gradually closing in on them, instead of simply awaiting their end at home, miserable, sad and afraid.

The crude attempt to dilute them with an imaginary right that had been mobilized by some reconciliation order wasn’t merely pathetic, but also indecent. Especially at a time when growing parts of the right have thrown off the last restraints of politeness and are proposing that we cancel the memorial events for Rabin’s murder or even blaming him for his own assassination.

This, incidentally, isn’t anything new. Even immediately after the murder, there were many people here who not only weren’t saddened by Rabin’s assassination, but even rejoiced at it. The difference is simply that today, they’re saying it openly.

I don’t mean to mock Bronstein, Richter or Darkenu. They opened themselves to criticism because the task they took upon themselves was both impossible and, to no lesser extent, troubling. Their message deceives every Israeli who needs to understand where he’s living.

There isn’t a single, unified nation in Israel. And this fact won’t be changed by singer Aviv Geffen, who returned to the square, or by the video clips of astronaut Ilan Ramon, which were meant to push our kitsch buttons.

Rather, there are two political camps in Israel that are locked in a dreadful battle over the country’s character. One of them bred an assassin who committed a crime of the first order against the state, and in an act of barbaric violence, murdered the leader of the opposing camp. And that’s the whole story in a nutshell.