Editorial |

Inventing Incitement

The cardboard guillotine at anti-corruption protests are not the same thing as the incitement that led to Rabin's assassination, no matter how hard the right tries to show the dangers of 'both sides'

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Ever since Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murder 22 years ago, the right wing, mainly through its representatives in government and the public arena, has been preoccupied with trying to shirk responsibility for the incitement and the political atmosphere that prevailed in Israel before the assassination. The right wing has tried unsuccessfully to paint a picture of symmetrical violence that is of equal danger on both sides of the political map.

To this end, the right wing is reducing the incitement that preceded Rabin’s murder to the image of him in an SS uniform, the symbolic coffin, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence on the balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, and is constantly on the lookout for similar displays today. This is an attempt to “balance things out” with the left, the idea being that “incitement exists on both sides.” Look at the gilded statue of Netanyahu violently pulled down in the town square, at the poster showing Netanyahu facing a hangman’s noose, at the one of Netanyahu in SS uniform, look at the cardboard guillotine.

But the incitement against Rabin was not limited to the images that became its symbol. These images were the tip of a broad, despicable ideological iceberg, which laid the groundwork – plainly and simply – for the murder of the prime minister. The threats on Rabin’s life were tangible and so was the legitimization for killing him that came from radical rabbis with their halakhic ruling of din rodef and pulsa de nura curse. Everyone knew Rabin was in danger. The media reported it, the Shin Bet security service was dealing with it. Opposition head Netanyahu stood on that balcony in Zion Square and orchestrated the dangerous atmosphere that threatened Rabin.

Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the balcony of a hotel overlooking Zion Square during a right-wing demonstration in 1995.Credit: David Mizrahi

The right wing is making cynical political use of the discourse about incitement. While before Rabin’s assassination there was a sense that his life was in danger, there is no danger to Netanyahu’s life today; at most, it’s to his continued rule. The fear of assassination is a fiction, a lie.

Citizens have the right to demonstrate against the government and to seek to replace it. Freedom of expression can include images, and not every image, as harsh as it may be, constitutes incitement to violence. The significance of the images derives from the context in which they appear (for example, an exhibit, a protest), as it does from the question of who is presenting them (an artist, the prime minister, etc.). The problem is not in the image itself – SS uniform, kaffiyeh, guillotine – but in the whole context.

The right wing and its representatives pounce eagerly on any image in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone: to retroactively shake off responsibility for the incitement to the Rabin’s murder, and to divert discussion from the corruption investigations of the prime minister. What must stop is the willingness of the left wing to play into the hands of the right and join the hypocritical, childish denunciations as if there were symmetry between then and now, or between right and left in this context.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel

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