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Rabin’s Murder Didn’t Change Netanyahu

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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A memorial following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv in 1995.
A memorial following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv in 1995.Credit: Tzika Yisraeli / Government Press Office
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

Year after year at the memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, members of his family raise the issue of incitement, including by our prime minister – Benjamin Netanyahu. In the last few years, certain journalists have expressed outrage at them. Who are they to preach to us? Who are they to tarnish the image of our admired leader?

This week I was reminded of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. At that time, there were protests against him every day. I remember how at cabinet meetings he would open a window overlooking the protesters, and mutter to himself words of anger, bitterness and disappointment.

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Rabin was a popular statesman who often made significant overtures to the right. But as soon as he was elected prime minister for a second term, the incitement against him knew no bounds. It pursued him everywhere and peaked at the rally in Zion Square where the fanatic inciters stood on a stage, led by Netanyahu.

I remember Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who was nearly strangled by a group of Ben-Gvir types outside the Knesset, saying in the subsequent cabinet meeting: “This is going to lead to the assassination of a prime minister.” None of us believed him then.

After Rabin's assassination, it seemed that Netanyahu and his friends learned their lesson and this would be the first and last assassination to happen in Israel. We thought that we knew Netanyahu. None of us imagined then that he would resume his incitement, let alone amplify it by tenfold, in 2021.

The people protesting outside the homes of Yamina lawmakers are confident that they are opposing traitors, those who are dealing the country a fatal blow. Extremist rabbis, including Rabbi Haim Druckman, issued an appeal for their followers “to do everything to keep the government from coming into being.” The rabbinic inciters who “did everything” to prevent a possible peace agreement, and created a public atmosphere that made it easier for Yigal Amir to go ahead with his plot, have returned to center stage.

Netanyahu has no qualms over making use of rabbis. It was the same when he tried to hurt Benny Gantz using Rabbi Guy Havura, and he is doing it again now, by exerting pressure on Yamina lawmakers via their rabbis. Rabbis have become an immoral arm of the Bibi-ist right. Their role in this prime minister’s political fight for survival is turning this into a dark religious struggle, one waged by rabbis who are the mentors of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, not exemplars of Jewish law for the public.

The current atmosphere is more combustible than in 1995. Social media is greatly amplifying the intensity of the incitement and the head of the Shin Bet has warned about its dangers. Many young Israelis were not around when Rabin was murdered and if they did hear about it, it was couched in the view that the assassination thwarted "the disgrace" of the Oslo Accords. There is a strong whiff of physical aggression in the air that could put politicians, jurists and law enforcement personnel in danger.

In a few months, we will mark the 26th anniversary of the Rabin assassination, who was felled while trying to lead his nation towards a new vista of peace. What happened to him must not be forgotten. We must take action. We must denounce and raise the alarm about the potential for another political assassination. And, hope that someone above is listening.

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