Netanyahu Has Learned the Lesson of Rabin's Assassination. The Israeli Left Should Too

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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, November 2019.

Every year at the Knesset’s memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu has had more and more trouble hiding his view that the ceremony is an injustice done him personally. But not this year. He came, he trolled the ceremony with the claim that people are inciting to his murder, then he went back home. It was a clean job, with no bitterness. It wasn’t much different than a visit to an accountant.

Rabin’s murder was a perfect murder that paid off,” the late Prof. Moshe Negbi once wrote. This is a serious charge, but an accurate one. Netanyahu owes his political existence to this murder. The roots of his rule are planted in the blood of the slain prime minister. Fanning the violence and then looking away is a strategy that served him both before the murder and after it.

Even his trolling remains the same. Do you remember him removing his flak jacket and asking, “Is there anyone here who isn’t a member of Likud?” How is that different from the prime minister who searches for violent online comments with a microscope at a time when in the streets, demonstrators are afraid of a car-ramming attack?

And the demonstrators don’t receive state-funded protection from the Shin Bet. They have only the police, who have displayed haplessness in dealing with the violence, and the demonstrative silence of the public security minister, who is directly responsible for this failure.

People accuse Netanyahu of “not having learned any lesson from Rabin’s murder.” But in fact, he did learn. A person who uses the same tactics now that he did then does so because it paid off for him, and because the price of the violence will always be paid by someone else. Other people have learned this as well.

The entire right wing isn’t to blame for Rabin’s murder, but the murderer did come from the right wing’s ranks, and several rabbis deemed it permissible to shed Rabin’s blood. “Everything I’ve done, I wouldn’t have done were it not for my religious obligation to protect the people of Israel under the law regarding the moser, which applies to Rabin,” murderer Yigal Amir told police investigators, referring to the halakhic legal principle that a moser, or someone who betrays Jews to non-Jews, is punishable by death. Nobody paid a price for this back then, just as politicians don’t pay a price for their rantings today.

It’s impossible to blame Rabin’s murder on Netanyahu alone; he was just a hitchhiker who traded in anger. He remains one today, and members of his Likud party vie among themselves over who can call the protesters against him “spreaders of disease” – a frightening term based solely on hatred, and on which an election campaign is now being built.

It’s a campaign that includes professional takers of offense like journalist Shimon Riklin, who used the memorial day for Rabin to accuse the left of incitement. Riklin  once said then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak would be murdered if he evacuated settlements. He understands incitement. 

An entire country needs to stop breathing every year so Netanyahu and his political bloc won’t, heaven forbid, take offense, even as in the streets, children are being hit with pepper spray and demonstrators are being stabbed.

Netanyahu’s Knesset speech, like that removal of his flak jacket, was more than mere trolling. Both reflect his consistent attempt to blur the trail and change the subject. Today, an entire party in the Knesset is engaged in this work, along with several propagandists in the media.

There’s no point warning about what might happen, because everyone has already seen what did happen. 

If there is one thing we should learn from Rabin’s murder, it’s that sometimes you have to look reality straight in the face. For the left, too, has learned the lesson of Rabin’s murder. We learned it’s permissible. It’s permissible to incite against us, to inflame the lunatics, to seek bloodshed. And we won’t exact any price for it. 

We’re waiting for a demonstrator to be murdered, as if that would change anything. But what would happen? People would go into the streets as if only now their lives were declared fair game? No. They’ve long since been fair game. And every day that we don’t join the protests outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, or at the overpasses and intersections, we’re allowing this to happen.

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