Opinion

Occupation Has Become a Dirty Word for Israel's Center-left

Two important things were missing from the memorial event marking the 21st anniversary of Yizhak Rabin's murder: Palestinians, and recognition of the true problem underlying Israeli society.

The memorial event in Tel Aviv marking the 21st anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's murder, November 5, 2016.
Moti Milrod

The statement by coalition whip MK David Bitan (Likud) last week that Yitzhak Rabin’s murder was not a political act aroused both fury and derision, which was also expressed at the memorial rally for the slain prime minister last Saturday night. But what value does such ridicule have when many of the speakers at the rally itself – starting with the opening remarks by master of ceremonies Aki Avni – made sure to emphasize that it was not a political rally, thus blurring the difference between them and Bitan? When most of the speeches focused on abstract slogans about “democracy,” “hatred” and “violence,” the main political issue was ignored.

Two narratives can be told about Rabin’s 1995 assassination. One focuses on the incitement, violence, intolerance and assault on democracy. This narrative is correct, of course. But it is also incomplete and even misleading if you do not also refer to the second key narrative: Rabin was murdered because he tried to make peace with the Palestinians, give up territory and, seemingly, end the occupation.

But this element was not the subject of the rally. Speakers called for “an end to violence” and “an end to incitement.” But the call for “an end to the occupation” – and the word “occupation” in general – appeared only in a song by Aviv Geffen and a speech by Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon, proving it was no coincidence that the Zionist Union did not originally want her to speak at the event.

In fact, the Palestinians were also missing from the rally. Except for Galon, the only person to mention them was MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), and that was mostly in terms of them being something we must separate from. Instead of the words “occupation” and “Palestinians,” most of the speakers spouted hollow words on the level of a youth group activity: about hope, hatred and how important it is to unite beyond politics.

In the past few days, an argument has been conducted in these pages between Gideon Levy – who called on people not to attend the rally – and Emilie Moatti, who presented the opposing viewpoint (Haaretz, November 3 and November 4). Indeed, we must not be purists and should stand together, which is preferable to staying home.

So I went to the rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. But as I stood there, I realized that the problem is not that the rally wasn’t broadcasting the “exact” messages I identify with – it is much worse. The rally’s messages are part of the problem: nostalgic messages for the good old days of a beautiful Israel in which the Israel Defense Forces is the most moral army in the world (according to Livni) – that is, until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came along and ruined everything.

Now, the victims of the present situation are the army, the media, human rights organizations, etc, which everyone describes – without differentiating between them – as groups Netanyahu is inciting against. According to the narrative told by most of the speakers at the rally, these are the real victims of Netanyahu’s rule, not the Palestinians.

We must take a stand against the attack on civil society. But you cannot ignore the fact that all of these are designed to permit the continuation of the policy of occupation and settlements: a policy that, if opposition to it is not at the top of the agenda, means there is no real opposition and the “center-left” remains irrelevant – just like the rally.