Video on State Website Slams Rabin for Altalena ‘Murders’

Video includes archival footage showing interviews with Rabin and two other people who tell of the events of pre-state battle in which 'Rabin admits responsibility for the massacre on the Altalena,'

Irgun ship Altalena burns after being shelled by IDF during the 1948 War of Independence.
Hans Finn / GPO

The Council for the Commemoration of Israel’s Past Presidents and Prime Ministers, which operates from the Prime Minister’s Office, has published a short video clip that accuses slain premier Yitzhak Rabin of being responsible for the “cold-blooded murder of 16 Jewish refugees” on the Irgun ship Altalena during the 1948 War of Independence.

The three-minute video includes archival footage showing interviews with Rabin and two other people who tell of the events of that battle. The clip is one of a cluster of videos appearing on the memorial page devoted to Rabin on the council’s website. The clip was not prepared by professionals but appears amateurish. It was posted on YouTube on December 25, 2011 by a private individual calling himself Palsmo.

The caption given to the video was: “Rabin admits responsibility for the massacre on the Altalena,” and it opens with a slide accompanied by the words: “The Altalena was an ‘Etzel’ (Irgun) boat carrying weapons, uniforms, medical equipment and 930 immigrants to Israel. The boat reached the coast during the War of Independence, 16 refugees were murdered in cold blood by soldiers carrying out orders that were patently illegal. Yitzhak Rabin was their commander.”

In fact, the 930 refugees were not on board during the battle but had been taken off the ship at Kfar Vitkin two days earlier. Nineteen people were killed in the battle: 16 Etzel fighters who had hunkered down on the boat, some of them firing at IDF soldiers, and three IDF soldiers. Rabin was indeed the commander of the force that on government orders tried to stop the Altalena, but in his memoirs and in later interviews he said that he was the one who ordered his men to stop shooting at the boat after it was hit by a shell and caught fire.

It’s unclear who posted this video on the official Rabin memorial page on the Council for Commemoration of Past Presidents and Prime Ministers’ website. On Tuesday Haaretz appealed in writing and verbally to the council with a query as to why the video was published there. Council members were surprised to learn of this video and promised to investigate and return with an answer, but so far none has arrived. By press time the video was still on the page.

The council is subject to legislation and is directly accountable to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It supervises plans to commemorate presidents and prime ministers and finances institutions and agencies that do so. One such agency is the Yitzhak Rabin Center.

Journalist Amnon Barzilai wrote in an article in a June 2013 weekend section of Haaretz that in the years before Rabin’s murder, and more so afterward, a myth developed on the right, according to which Rabin was the main culprit in the shooting and killing of Irgun members. Barzilai and others argue that these accusations played a major role in the incitement against Rabin and directly influenced Yigal Amir. These claims are used to justify the assassination to this day.

Barzilai argued that in recent years these accusations have become more acceptable among more moderate segments of the right as well as Likud ministers and Knesset members. Barzilai exposed statements made in 2012 by Minister Ofir Akunis at the annual memorial service for the casualties on the Altalena: “The Jew who pulled the trigger, later a prime minister in Israel, scarred Zionist history by pointing that weapon and firing! He and his men intensified their fire when they learned that the leader of Herut, Menachem Begin, was on board.”