The Knesset Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of the death of cabinet minister and retired general Rehavam Ze’evi. In October 2001, Ze’evi was murdered by four Palestinian gunmen in a Jerusalem hotel.
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But claims of a pattern of sexual assaults and brutal intimidation tactics, disclosed in a television program several months ago, darkened both the special parliamentary session in Ze’evi’s memory and the official memorial service at his grave on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.
In the April report by the Israel Channel 2 investigative series “Uvda,” two women said that Ze’evi had raped them. At least three additional women, including the veteran actress and broadcaster Rivka Michaeli, described being groped and nearly raped by Ze’evi.
A number of individuals, including prominent journalists and army officers, recalled numerous incidents of intimidation and underworld behavior that included putting a pistol to a reporter’s head, arranging for a bomb outside a journalist’s home and shooting two innocent Bedouin men, killing one.
Fewer than a third of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers attended the Knesset session. Opposition MKs in particular noted that it wasn’t the first time they had boycotted the annual ceremony for the extreme right-wing Ze’evi.
“In my 10 years in the Knesset, I’ve chosen not to participate in meetings in his memory due to my aversion to the ‘transfer’ legacy and his ties with the underworld,” said Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich, referring to Ze’evi’s advocacy of a plan to expel Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Arab states.
“It’s shameful that the Knesset commemorates a person whose work runs counter to the basic values of a civilized society, said Meretz MK Michal Rozin.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the issue in his Knesset speech, saying that everyone has the right to a good name.
“We must exercise caution when we come to unilaterally seal Gandhi’s fate, since he is unable to give his account of things,” Netanyahu said, referring to Ze’evi by his nickname.
“There’s no argument as to what Gandhi did on the national, military and diplomatic level here. ... His achievements must not be erased,” Netanyahu added.
Ze’evi’s legacy, he said, was not “the controversial transfer doctrine,” but rather “his great love for the land of Israel and his great knowledge of its history.”
President Reuven Rivlin also mentioned the claims raised by “Uvda,” saying that while “we hear and remember these voices,” it must be remembered that [t]he dead cannot clear their names and cannot protest the tarnishing of their honor and memory.”
Even in the face of the allegations, Rivlin said, we must remember [Ze’evi’s] achievements in defending the country and in building it, and his devotion to Israel.”
Despite criticism from party colleagues, opposition leader and Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog not only attended but also addressed the Knesset session, “not without misgivings,” he said. Five other Zionist Union MKs attended.
“The publications in the past year regarding Ze’evi, especially on the Uvda show, have uncovered testimonies of difficult incidents. In this age, you cannot ignore the moral and substantial issue of relations between women and men in society and gloss over them. This is a cloud that casts a shadow over his figure,” he said.
Herzog called on the cabinet to reexamine its decision to erect a memorial to Ze’evi at the national memorial site to the Palmach, outside Jerusalem at Sha’ar Hagai. Herzog urged Ze’evi’s family to try to come to an agreement with veterans of the force.
Ze’evi fought in the Palmach, but not in the Harel Brigade’s bitter and bloody battles there in the War of Independence.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who also spoke at the event, slammed Herzog, saying that “if I had to advise the Ze’evi family, I would have rejected the proposal outright. You could have said these things to them in quiet.”
Ariel harshly criticized the publication of the investigative report against Ze’evi after his death. “I disdainfully reject, almost contemptuously, the criticism aired recently by people who knew that he has no way to respond. A foolish act that demeans us all.”
Knesset officials approached Ze’evi’s family about canceling the Knesset session out of concern that the anticipated protests by lawmakers would dishonor the occasion, but representatives of the family rebuffed the suggestion.