Many on the Left want the annual memorial of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin to focus on the late prime minister’s political convictions and emphasize the dangers of incitement, particular of the right-wing variety.
Others, interested in appealing to a broader audience, want the event to be based on more common denominators such as Zionism and patriotism.
Clearly Darkenu and Commanders for Israel’s Security, the two groups organizing the main event at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, adhere to the second, more inclusive approach. And this has raised the rancor of the Left.
We believe both positions are wrongheaded. Clearly, focusing solely on Rabin’s politics will prevent the annual memorial from becoming a national event celebrated by all walks of Israeli society. Over the past 22 years since his assassination, many of the assumptions underpinning the Oslo Accords have been discredited, particularly the belief that a moderate Palestinian political leadership would emerge in response to Israeli overtures. The 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, which led to the rise of Hamas, has taught Israelis to be more skeptical of making territorial concessions.
Nor should Rabin’s assassination be used as a means of delegitimizing the entire Right or limiting free speech. A clear distinction must be made between violent actions and speech, even of the most despicable kinds. The former must be forbidden while the latter must be protected as essential to the functioning of any democracy.
While it is true that incitement on the Right preceded Rabin’s murder, ultimately it was Yigal Amir who pulled the trigger. Nevertheless, people need to learn from memorials like the one planned for Saturday night that speech can incite violence. Freedom of speech is a right that should be protected but we also need to ensure that it is not abused.
That is why the lessons of Rabin’s assassination must not be watered down. Figures on the Left such as former Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz are right when they point out that Rabin did not die of natural causes. He was the victim of a political assassination committed by a man who sought to change national policy not at the ballot box, but with shots from a pistol.
That is why it is good that Darkenu and Commanders for Israel’s Security responded to the criticism that was rightly leveled against them from the Left for failing to mention in advertisements and notices publicizing Saturday night’s event that Rabin was assassinated. Now under the title “We are One People,” advertisements announce “a mass rally commemorating 22 years since the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.”
In their attempt not to hurt anyone’s feelings and to appeal to everybody, Darkenu and Commanders for Israel’s Security watered down their message too much. On a day commemorating Israel’s most shocking political assassination, it is not enough to talk about “unity” and “moderation.” A clear position needs to be taken that any form of violence used to achieve a political end is illegitimate. Political decisions must be made through consensus not through bullying or intimidation.
It would also help to understand that fear is often what motivates extreme rhetoric on both the Right and the Left. During the Oslo era, many on the Right were fearful that territorial concessions and providing arms to Palestinians would lead to violence. And this fear was largely vindicated.
Meanwhile, the Left fears the demographic dangers to democracy resulting from maintaining control over Judea and Samaria, which could undermine Israel as we know it.
What makes Rabin’s memorial day unique and worthy of commemoration is not the Labor Party’s political agenda or Rabin’s own political convictions. Nor is it enough to talk vaguely of “unity” and “moderation.” Rather we must reaffirm our democratic values, which protect even the most abhorrent forms of speech while at the same time condemn any use of violence to further political ends. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, that is something we should all be able to agree on as we remember what happened on the night of November 4, 22 years ago.