19 Years Later, It's Time We Talk About Netanyahu

The man who led the anti-Rabin demonstrations that preceded the assassination was none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. The only goal that should be pursued now is for him to go home.

Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky
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Anti-Rabin protest from 1990s, featuring sign depicting him as an Arab and calling him "the liar."
Anti-Rabin protest from 1990s, featuring sign depicting him as an Arab and calling him "the liar."Credit: GPO
Sefi Rachlevsky
Sefi Rachlevsky

Today is November 4. Nineteen years after the fact, the time has come to talk about the elephant in the room. The elephant has been growing every day. By avoiding talking about it, Israel has become a country given to incest.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won the American presidential election by the largest margin in the United States since 1824. Charismatic, Johnson was not. His election was a natural reaction to the assassination of President John Kennedy the year before. And in India, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in circumstances similar to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Gandhi’s party remained in power for the next 30 years. In pre-state Israel too, David Ben-Gurion took advantage of the incitement by the right-wing Revisionist movement’s Brit Habiryonim group that preceded the assassination of his colleague Haim Arlosoroff in 1933, bringing about a shift that resulted in 40 years of rule by the center-left.

The opposite phenomenon has only occurred once in history. And how different it was. The man who led the anti-Rabin demonstrations that preceded the assassination, protests at which there were slogans including “through blood and fire, we will drive Rabin out,” was none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. He was elected prime minister seven months after Rabin’s murder. He was the same man whom former Shin Bet heads Karmi Gillon and Yuval Diskin were convinced that had it not been for his support for the wave of incitement, it’s possible the assassination never would have occurred. But instead of being shunned by the public, he took up residence in the home and the bed of the murdered Rabin. Even Shakespeare and the Bible don’t provide such tragic endings.

This fact has turned Israeli culture into the equivalent of a family suffering from incest. Such families are marked by a spiral of silence. What is most important is never spoken about. It’s too horrible. And it will do harm to the future of the family and to its livelihood. It’s the head of the household, after all. One cannot say such things about him. It has to be repressed. It can’t be spoken of, as if this most important event never occurred, never happened.

On Friday, 105 former senior officials in the defense establishment took an important step, their own version of breaking the silence. They gave expression to some of the rage of the clear majority of the members of the defense community over Israel’s incomprehensible missed opportunity in our region. But whom did these 105 officials approach, urging that he forge the peace that requires a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and mass evacuation of the settlements? Who? Netanyahu, the person who is burying Israel in the settlements and has been inciting against moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for years. Under Benjamin Netanyahu’s governments, a culture unique in Israel and the world’s political history has taken control of the center-left. It’s the culture of the mother in the incestuous household. Would reserve officer Motti Ashkenazi, who led a protest movement over the debacle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, have made a similar approach to Prime Minister Golda Meir, whose government was forced to resign following the war? Clearly not.

Would the Republicans in the United States simply ask President Barack Obama to scrap Obamacare? Would the Democrats have asked President George W. Bush to make peace? All over the world, and once upon a time in Israel too, what the opposition has always asked for is the obvious: that leaders pursue the opposite policy direction and that leaders who differ with this worldview be replaced. That’s the essence of democracy. In its absence, there is dictatorship.

There is a majority in Israel that wants dramatic change. There is a majority that has had enough of Netanyahu’s policies, which have turned Israel into a record holder among industrialized countries when it comes to economic disparities and poverty. It’s a majority that has been fed up with Israel’s subordination to race, to the settlements, to incitement and extremist religiosity. It’s a majority that wants complete change, but this majority can only make this a reality if the entire leadership that is not on the messianic right comes together to bring it about. It is only possible if the collaboration with Netanyahu is brought to an end. Only if the centrality of Rabin’s Labor Party in this dramatic change is understood. Only if an end is put to the silence over incest. Netanyahu is guilty. Nothing should be asked of him. The only goal that should be pursued is for him to go home.

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