Sixteen years ago, in October 2001, lawmaker Rehavam Ze’evi was assassinated by Palestinian gunmen in a Jerusalem hotel, only a few hours before his resignation as tourism minister in Ariel Sharon’s government was to go into effect. Ze’evi was a bully in his political and personal life. He headed an extremist and racist right-wing party that called for transferring the Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries, threatened journalists, socialized with criminals, allegedly assaulted women and avoided prosecution due to police leniency.
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Despite this, the Knesset has embarrassed itself by passing special legislation that provides for official events and funding to perpetuate a distorted version of his image – mostly for the settlers’ benefit. Promenades, a road, a bridge, streets, a scenic lookout post, a square, a public park and even a military base all became monuments to a dubious legacy. Even after a report on Channel 2’s “Uvda” (“Fact”) investigative program brought forward claims that he had repeatedly sexually assaulted women and intimidated critics with the help of criminals, and even after some lawmakers announced that they would work to annul the law that sets aside government funding to commemorate him, nothing has happened.
Like every year, the school system was meant to mark the Hebrew anniversary of Ze’evi’s death on Thursday. But this time, parents and teachers in Tel Aviv rebelled against this unfounded tradition. Even though the Education Ministry director-general’s circular calls on homeroom teachers to devote some of their lessons to Ze’evi, high schools canceled their events with the principals' support.
This is an encouraging and praiseworthy development that teaches us what citizens can do to express their displeasure with the Knesset’s insistence on continuing to remember and instill the legacy of a man worthy of contempt. One must admire those school principals who stood in the breach and announced that “the obligation to commemorate him is a decree that the public can’t and doesn’t want to observe,” as Natan Stern, the principal of Tel Aviv’s Ironi Dalet High School, put it, or those who proposed more logical alternatives, like the principal of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, Zeev Degani. “I would suggest that principals observe the memorial day, but focus on [Ze’evi’s] behavior – the facism, racism and acts of harassment,” he said. “It’s important to show how ‘wild weeds’ spring up in Israeli society, so that there’s an opportunity to denounce them.”
A country that chooses to ignore a moral stain that flies over it like a black flag forces parents, teachers and principals to stop the political indoctrination of their children on their own. It is forbidden to obey every unfounded whim of a government that’s lost its conscience. Ze’evi’s legacy should be erased or condemned, and it certainly shouldn’t be bequeathed to future generations.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel