Let All Israelis Honor Yitzhak Rabin

The main opposition party has reportedly decided that no rightists should speak at the annual rally for the assassinated prime minister. Is this the way to memorialize Rabin?

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A woman at the annual rally remembering the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, November 4, 2017.
A woman at the annual rally remembering the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, November 4, 2017. Credit: Meged Gozani
Israel Cohen
Israel Cohen

The third day of the Hebrew month of Tishri, immediately after the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, is the Fast of Gedaliah. The reason for the fast is the first political murder in Jewish history. Gedaliah Ben Ahikam, who united and led the Jews who remained in Judea following the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian exile, was murdered due to an ideological disagreement and a rift in the nation.

But as the years passed, his story has been largely forgotten; aside from the Fast of Gedaliah, he gets no attention. The events that led to his murder aren’t studied in preschools and schools.

There’s a dispute about the reasons that led to the murder. But one thing is common knowledge and clear to everyone: Gedaliah ben Ahikam was killed by a Jew who opposed his political path.

A little over a month from now, Israel will mark the anniversary of the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, may he rest in peace. Will Rabin’s assassination also be forgotten in the country’s public life as the years pass?

In the 23 years since that terrible murder, various people, including some in politics, have tried to find a way to memorialize Rabin, but they haven’t been very successful. The divisions, as usual, are over how he should be memorialized – in a statesmanlike, unifying manner or a political, divisive one.

Last week, Channel 20 television reported that the chairman of the Zionist Union party, Avi Gabbay, had decided that this year’s memorial event should be a political one. According to the report, Gabbay even decided that no rightists, no opponents of Rabin’s political path, should speak at the event.

Is this the right way to memorialize Yitzhak Rabin? Rabin was chairman of the Labor Party and a product of the Labor Zionist movement, but we mustn’t forget that he was also a prime minister who sought to represent all Israelis. When he signed the controversial Oslo Accords, he did so in the settlers’ name as well.

Last year’s memorial event, which took place in Rabin Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, included a representative of the settlers, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. He felt comfortable enough to come because last year’s event was meant to include all parts of the nation, even the settlers. But Gabbay’s decision to bar rightists from speaking will lead whole swaths of the public to shun this year’s event because it has turned from a statesmanlike, unifying event into a political rally.

The left is once again talking loudly about democracy and the need to represent everyone. But when it comes to its own backyard, it chooses to block opinions contrary to its own from being heard. Liberalism evidently ends on the road leading to Rabin Square.

As a religious Jew – and I’m sure there are many like me, even if we don’t necessarily identify with the right – I feel comfortable participating in a statesmanlike event. But I’ll have to skip the memorial if it’s characterized by finger-pointing at religious Jews or rightists.

The memorial day for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin should become a national memorial day. The annual event held in his memory in the square that now proudly bears his name should become a national event. The relevant government institutions should be in charge of organizing and running it so that every person in this country, from leftists to settlers, can take part.

And on the dais, all the people’s representatives should be present, including Uri Ariel. Certainly not only representatives of Zionist Union.

To hold an exclusively left-wing event in Rabin’s memory is to hide one’s head in the sand. It’s an unsuccessful attempt by citizens of the State of Tel Aviv to unite, mourn together and pat themselves on the back.

The clarion call that ought to emerge from this terrible murder is one of unity and connection between all parts of the nation. I regret that because of Gabbay’s mistaken decision, I, like many of my friends, will be forced to skip this year’s event.

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