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The Israeli Right Must No Longer Pretend Rabin's Murder Was a Tragedy

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, October 21, 1998.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, October 21, 1998.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Only now, all these years later, when the right is in the prime of its power and when shame and politeness are a rarity, the veneer of denial has finally cracked. The knowledge that mourning for Yitzhak Rabin is a sectorial matter is trickling down to those who had thought, erroneously, that the country was them and only them.

Once, when I returned from covering a rally for Benjamin Netanyahu, when the investigations had become indictments, I shared a cab with this lady who had come to support the prime minister.

We chatted a little and she told me she had always voted for Likud and detested the left. Very quickly she let me know, completely at her ease, that when Rabin was murdered she had felt happy, and that only after her son’s pleading did she stop displaying it in public or saying it out loud.

Her words astounded me with their unusual, coarse honesty, but did not surprise me. Anyone who has grown up in cities, neighborhoods or families of right-wing voters could also detect these feelings, together with a little real shame. Perhaps not happiness, as this lady stated, but a lack of sorrow: This thing is not theirs. They frowned, because that’s what you were supposed to do at the time, when there was still pretense, when there were no social media to legitimize anything, toxic as it may be, and enable its dissemination.

Today there is no longer any need to pretend. Orli Levi-Abekasis said last week she had no idea what Rabin’s legacy is, and in any case it has nothing to do with her. So if Levi-Abekasis, who was elected with Labor Party ballots, the same as Rabin was, feels comfortable enough to say that, what will the right-wing rank and file say?

Unlike her, it’s not groundless to assume that in a few years, the rightists will be explaining why the murder was actually expedient, and claim “self defense.”

On the way to that point we pass through the stations of conspiracy theories, which exempt the ideological right from its responsibility for the murder and place it on the Americans, or on Shimon Peres, or on the movements calling for the murderer Yigal Amir’s release.

Listen carefully to some of the right-wingers. They refer to Rabin Square as Kings of Israel Square – its name before Rabin was slain there. These are pangs of guilt vented as denial and reversal. But that’s the zeitgeist in broad sections of the right.

And this was the blind spot of the Rabin camp, for whom no heir has been found since his assassination: the notion it harbored that it was the country, that the prime minister’s murder had struck a fatal blow to the country’s symbols and would undermine and shake up all Israel’s citizens.

But the country was something else – as the 1996 elections demonstrated, when Israel, despite the murder, elected Benjamin Netanyahu. Now it is only coming out of the closet.

“My country is gone,” Rabin’s assistant, Shimon Sheves, said following the murder, apparently not realizing how right he was. Rabin was the last Mapainik prime minister.

The truth is that his term as prime minister, while adopting some of the peace camp’s principles, was tantamount to a miracle. The fact that Shulamit Aloni was once the education minister sounds today like a wild hallucination. That was the rarity. That was the anomaly. Not what we’ve seen since then.

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