Tel Aviv Schools Defy State, Refuse to Commemorate Slain Minister and General Accused of Rape and Racism

Principals justify decision because of Rehavam Ze'evi's past that included sexual assaults, violence against Arabs, racism and underworld ties

Rehavam Zeevi.
Nir Kafri

Principals of all Tel Aviv schools have decided across-the-board not to mark the annual memorial day for former general and minister Rehavam Ze’evi on Thursday. With their decision, the principals are defying the instructions of the Education Ministry, which since 2010 requires all schools to mark the day by dedicating a part of their classes to Ze’evi’s memory.

The principals justified their decision because of various matters attributed to Ze’evi, such as violence against Arabs, his call for a “transfer” of part of the Arab population, alleged ties with underworld figures and sexual abuse and harassment of women.

Ze’evi, known as Gandhi, was a former Israel Defense Forces general who was shot to death by Palestinian assassins in 2001 in a Jerusalem hotel. He was tourism minister at the time. He founded the right-wing Moledet party in 1988, and was elected to the Knesset on its behalf.

Dozens of parents also said they would not send their children to school on Thursday in protest of the memorial day. “Rehavam Ze’evi’s authentic legacy is the ideology of racism and ethnic cleansing and mass deportations of Palestinians. In addition his legacy includes friendly connections with convicted murderers,” states the Facebook page calling to boycott the memorial day. “The educational system must not turn the man, with his disgusting actions as a soldier, citizen and politician into an example and model for students in Israel.”

In April 2016, a report by the investigative Israeli TV program “Uvda” (“Fact”) revealed claims of sexual assaults and brutal intimidation tactics by Ze’evi. Two women were quoted there as saying Ze’evi had raped them. At least three additional women, including the veteran actress and broadcaster Rivka Michaeli, described being groped and almost raped by Ze’evi.

A number of individuals, including prominent journalists and army officers, came forward and recalled numerous incidents involving intimidation and “underworld” behavior by Ze’evi. These included putting a pistol to a reporter’s head, arranging for a bomb to be planted outside a journalist’s home and the shooting of two innocent Bedouin men, one of whom died.

In 2005, four years after his murder by three gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – the PFLP said afterward it was avenging Israel’s assassination two months earlier of their leader, Abu Ali Mustafa – the nonprofit organization to commemorate Ze’evi’s legacy received official government support. This followed the Knesset’s passage of an unusual, controversial law to “commemorate the memory of Rehavam Ze’evi and bequeath to future generations his work and legacy.” The government allocates millions of shekels a year for the commemoration.

Ze’evi joined a very short list of public figures receiving such an honor. the only other two on the list who have a specific law to memorialize them even though they were not prime ministers or presidents of Israel are Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.