Rabin's Murder: The First Shots of the Era of Lies Into Which We Were Born

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Israelis placing candles at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, 1995
Israelis placing candles at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, 1995Credit: Zvika Yisrael / GPO

Last week, some friends and I watched the newscast from November 4, 1995. We were babies when it first aired. Like us, 44 percent of Israelis were born that year or later, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The scene of the square filled with demonstrators was very familiar to us. But that’s where it ended. Other than the masses of people carrying flags and banners, we felt like foreign tourists when we switched on the TV. Although the characters were familiar, they spoke a language we didn’t understand.

When at the beginning of that 1995 newscast, Sari Raz reported from the studio that “the rally supporting the peace process and the government has started” in Tel Aviv’s main square, we stopped and listened. What back then was a routine report sounded to us Millennials like an oxymoron.

Government? Demonstration? Peace? All in one sentence? For us, it’s more logical to mix right-winger Naftali Bennett and centrist Yair Lapid, not “government” with “peace.”

The only “peace” people my age have experienced is the series of diplomatic accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Accordingly, when we hear a prime minister say “peace,” we realize he means an agreement that will let the government sell planes or other weapons, or repatriate asylum seekers who fled genocide and put their lives back at risk.

“I have always believed that the majority of the people wants peace,” Yitzhak Rabin said from the podium at the square later in that broadcast, as if he were trying to confuse us even further. All our lives we’ve heard political speeches saying that “the majority of the people” wants Benjamin Netanyahu or doesn’t want him. We don’t know the concept of a people that might want to see the realization of some ideology, some lofty goal beyond rule by one person, or the removal of this person from office.

Later, the broadcast passed to newscaster Keren Neubach, who was then at the age we are now. She refused to tell the viewers the exact number of demonstrators on the square. “In the clash between right and left, the number of people attending this rally is very significant, but we won’t provide a number before the police give one,” she said in the tone of someone who had good reason to trust police reports.

We were surprised yet again. We’re also very familiar with arguments about the number of demonstrators, but we don’t know a media outlet that refuses to report something when it’s not sure it has all the facts. We’re used to people on TV telling us that “demonstrators say X” and “Netanyahu says Y,” two contradictory truths for us to choose from. This, for my generation, is the essence of objectivity.

We continued listening to the prime minister, who was called by newscasters “Mr. Rabin.” None of us had ever heard that appellation on TV, or had ever used it. In our generation, you don’t precede anyone’s name with an honorific, certainly not an elected official. We never stopped to think about it, but it’s as if we had all agreed that politicians and honorifics don’t go together.

These gaps aren’t trivial. On the contrary, they’re the traces of a second, silent murder that took place that evening.

Look around. In the quarter-century since, many of us have become Rabin. Anyone who doesn’t agree with Netanyahu is labeled a traitor, sometimes dressed in effigy in an SS uniform. What was at first incitement directed “only” at a prime minister has become incitement against millions of citizens.

The incitement and divisiveness that preceded the murder, considered “extreme” by our parents, have become routine, just like the exorbitant housing prices. It’s no longer an event you have to devote a day of commemoration to. This is our daily fare.

The one who has turned “extreme” over the last quarter-century isn’t assassin Yigal Amir but Rabin himself, along with the legacy of peace he strove to leave behind. It’s no coincidence that former Education Minister Rafi Peretz wanted a commemoration day for the biblical matriarch Rachel in schools on the commemoration day for Rabin.

In Israel, where “violence on both sides” is constantly reported, the word “peace” is now extreme. It’s a word you say quietly, in the inner sanctums of leftists, anarchists or the disengaged. When my generation watches videos put out by Likud in 1996, with the slogan “Netanyahu. Making a Secure Peace,” we think it’s some sort of parody.

Thus, very quietly, without anyone paying attention, November 4 also saw the murder of the Hebrew in which words jibed with their dictionary definitions, a Hebrew in which leftists weren’t equal to Nazis and socialists weren’t the same as terrorists. It was a Hebrew in which “elected officials” were elected to represent the people rather than themselves or their party leader, a Hebrew in which politics dealt with the “what,” not the “who.”

It was a Hebrew in which taking responsibility meant resigning, not going to the media and announcing that you were “taking full responsibility.” It was a Hebrew in which you could say “peace” out loud without worrying about being tracked by the security services.

For members of my generation, Rabin’s assassination isn’t the end, not the end point of a process. For us, Yigal Amir’s shots were the opening shots of the era of lies into which we were born. The “candle generation” protested in that square over what was taken from it. The protesters on Balfour Street are protesting for the sake of something they never knew.

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