November 19, 2018

MideastTwo Years After

The memorial underneath the parking garage at Tel Aviv City Hall, where Yitzhak Rabin was murdered two years ago, was an island of quiet and somberness in a country that was being scalded anew by the memory of the assassination.

On Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 4, about 100 people stood around the black stone sculpture. Some knelt and lit candles. The memorial was covered with flowers and wreaths. One was inscribed, “Remember, and sound a warning.”

The place was lousy with reporters, who had to talk to people who didn’t feel much like talking. “They told me to interview 40 people. It wasn’t my idea,” said a reporter from Ma’ariv. He went to find number 22.

The political leanings of the crowd were pretty clear. Peace Now was distributing stickers and memorial candles. “No peace, no security — Bibi is a failure,” was another popular sticker. Otherwise, one man in a yarmulke read aloud from a prayer book. Passersby on busy Ibn Gvirol Street looked at the small crowd without stopping. A man sat on the sidewalk next to a sign that read, “I am fasting and silent today — silent because it was words that committed the murder, even before the bullets.”

In the week leading up to the anniversary, the themes connected to the assassination — political violence and hatred — were replayed. The Jerusalem office of Dor Shalom (Peace Generation), led by Rabin’s son, Yuval, was torched. The organization reported receiving numerous telephone and e-mail messages in praise of Yigal Amir prior to the arson.

Kach member David Axelrod, who, after the assassination, told a radio reporter, “It’s not the murder of a Jew, but the liquidation of a traitor…eliminating an enemy is a good thing,” was acquitted on incitement charges. The judge ruled that Axelrod didn’t know his remarks were going to be broadcast, and that the reporter had asked “provocative” questions.

Tel Aviv painter Avraham Pesso was remanded in court for defacing Baruch Goldstein’s Kiryat Arba grave — which has become a pilgrimage site for his admirers — three days after Rabin’s murder. “Stop this disgrace!” Pesso had shouted as he kicked out the lights next to the benches where Goldstein’s devotees come to sit. Pesso confessed to most of the charges but said that he didn’t regret what he did. The prosecution said that it would seek only a punishment of community service instead of the maximum six-year sentence.

A clinical psychologist at Bar-Ilan University, where Yigal Amir studied, found in a survey of Israeli high school students that 27 percent of those attending religious high schools sympathized with Amir.

Another poll, conducted for Israel Radio, estimated that 300,000 Israelis endorse assassination of political leaders prepared to give up territory to the Palestinians, and that as many as 1,000 Israelis might be willing to carry out such a murder. The poll found that the leader most in danger of assassination was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, followed by Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak and former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni.

Right-wing conspiracy theories about the assassination abounded. Hatzofeh, the newspaper of the National Religious Party, printed an account of some of the more popular theories, including the one that had Peres plotting with the Shin Bet to kill Rabin so that Peres could inherit the prime minister’s seat. In the wake of the story, Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman, Police Minister Avigdor Kahalani and Science Minister Michael Eitan called for an investigation of the Shin Bet’s actions prior to the assassination. Opposition figures, notably Peres, said that this was an amazing exercise of playing into the hands of the darkest political elements in the country. Former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, who headed the commission that investigated the assassination, said that the Shin Bet’s role had already been studied and that no shred of a conspiracy had been found.

Alongside these developments, the left continued to charge that the right, led by Netanyahu, had incited a climate of hatred which had prepared the ground for Rabin’s murder. “We Won’t Forget and We Won’t Forgive,” was the slogan of the moment. The Labor Party said that Netanyahu had no business speaking at the special memorial Knesset session this week unless he apologized for the way he ran the right-wing opposition before the assassination.

In return, the right continued to accuse the left of incitement, of blaming half the Israeli public for the assassination, and of trying to exploit the murder for political gain. The Action Headquarters, one of the most extreme right-wing organizations in Israel, printed up posters that also read, “We Won’t Forget and We Won’t Forgive” — but the posters referred to the Oslo accords, not the Rabin assassination.

Meanwhile, the memorial at City Hall seemed a place where people could get away from the arguments, where their lingering grief and anger could flow quietly and undisturbed. A woman in her 20s who gave her name only as Tami said: “My coming here has nothing to do with all the disputes. I just felt I needed to be here. There’s really nothing I want to say.”