Opinion

A Shameful Saturday Night in the Square

The answer to incitement and intolerance of the right cannot be mutual intolerance by the left

Activists gathering at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square ahead of the memorial for the late prime minister on October 3, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

Saturday night in Rabin Square, there was a rally marking 23 years since his assassination. Tens of thousands of people, Tel Aviv’s left-wing hardcore, filled the plaza. This year’s slogans condemned the incitement that led to Rabin’s murder and the right-wing’s criminal attempts – then and now – to shirk responsibility for this incitement.

The list of speakers included the routine people you hear from on the left-wing edge of the political map, including Yair Lapid who, as usual, likes to zigzag about his political identity. But all this changed when the only representative from the right, cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi got up to speak – and a loud chorus of boos nearly drowned out his speech.

Hanegbi gave a brave speech. He said sincerely that then and today, as well, he opposes the peace process that Rabin led (the Oslo Accords), but his lack of agreement with Rabin never diminished the shock of his murder. “They murdered my prime minister,” he said.

“When the assassin attacked the prime minister, I and each and every one, the partners to that political struggle, felt exactly what the Israelis on the other side of the ideological spectrum felt. Pain and tremendous sorrow. Had I been there I would have taken the bullet instead of Rabin.”

You have to admire Hanegbi’s political courage and honesty for coming out against his own political base by daring to participate in a rally so clearly identified with the left-wing camp, and especially one that accuses the right-wing of incitement and murder. Even though Hanegbi didn’t apologize in the name of the main inciter, then and now, Benjamin Netanyahu, the very fact of his participation in the rally was a gesture of tolerance, of opposition to incitement. Or a hint of an admission of guilt. At a rally held with the stated purpose of opposing incitement, Hanegbi should have been wildly applauded and encouraged in every way as a first sign of tolerance and repentance by right-wing politicians. Instead, the crowd booed him.

The Pavlovian response of the Tel Aviv crowd – to stone a right-winger, even if he bears a message of reconciliation and tolerance – was shameful in its stupidity. What’s the point of left-wingers crying out against political incitement by the right when any attempt at moderating this incitement is rejected and booed? The claim that Hanegbi did not explicitly apologize is absurd. What did people expect? For him to don a burlap sack and cover himself with ashes? Would anything less have satisfied the left-wing masses filling the square on Saturday night?

We cannot ignore the right-wing incitement that occurred on the evening of Rabin’s assassination, nor can we ignore the continued incitement of the right. But the answer to incitement and intolerance of the right cannot be mutual intolerance by the left. Intolerance is a lack of readiness to respect the other’s view. On Saturday night the bitter truth emerged in Rabin Square: The educated left-wing masses who filled the square are intolerant, exactly like the vehement masses of the right so mocked by the left. Intolerance is intolerance and it’s a shameful phenomenon – whether it’s expressed in Jerusalem’s Zion Square or in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

On Saturday night in Tel Aviv, I was ashamed at the intolerance and lack of wisdom that was awash in the square.