THE Israeli government needs to change the atmosphere in Israel or there will be another political murder, Yitzhak Rabin’s granddaughter warned this week.
Noa Rotman delivered her blunt message at a graveside ceremony to mark the 23rd anniversary of Rabin’s murder, and seemed to aim her comments at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sitting in the audience just a few metres away.
She spoke about the culture of incitement and intolerance which she believes exists among the Israeli public and political leadership today, echoing the atmosphere that is said to have set the stage for her grandfather’s murder.
Unless things change, she warned, “blood will be shed”. Analysts said it was a turning-point for the Rabin family.
“They decided to take the gloves off,” pollster and political analyst Camil Fuchs told The AJN.
He said that the Rabin family resents Netanyahu for attacking the left and its values, and presenting them as beyond the pale.
“They stopped using the politically correct cliches and attacked the Prime Minister directly,” Fuchs observed.
“It was the first time the family stopped being politically correct and just talking about the unity of people. They attacked Netanyahu directly because they see him as creating division in the population.”
The speech came less than a week after Israel’s opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, claimed that Netanyahu is turning Israelis against each other for “cynical” motives and making it a “sin” to disagree with him.
As Rotman stood close to Rabin’s grave, with Israeli flags and a huge picture of her grandfather behind her, she told the audience of politicians and dignitaries that “not much has changed in 23 years”.
There was loud applause after the speech, and widespread praise, though it also sparked controversy.
To make her point she said that a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office had presented Rabin as a traitor in a social media post.
It turned out that she was referring to a picture that captioned various left-wing Israelis, including Rabin, with sins from the Yom Kippur liturgy.
The person who she was referring to, who shared the picture, did work for Netanyahu – but 20 years ago.
And the picture accused Rabin of wrongdoing but not treachery.
Netanyahu’s office accused Rotman of making a “baseless defamation that disrespects the event”.
As Rotman suggested that the political violence that killed her grandfather could be repeated, President Reuven Rivlin also shook Israel with a bout of pessimism. The nation is forgetting the significance of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, he warned.
Rivlin delivered the hard-hitting speech at a commemoration event. “The truth is that something is not working,” he declared.
He reasoned that “each year we make speeches and hold ceremonies and yet we see the erosion of the centrality of the murder and what it means in Israeli public discourse”.
Rivlin, who was a prominent figure on the Israeli right at the time when an ultra-hardliner murdered Rabin, said that his generation “did not read the writing on the wall” and “will surely not forgive itself”.
But he is concerned that the next generation doesn’t understand the message it should be taking from the assassination. Today, Israel is increasingly dominated by the “generation that did not itself see the dark slippery slope from incitement and hatred to bloodshed”.
Rivlin said: “Children and young people who have grown up and were born and immigrated over the last 20 or 30 years, the leaders of our tomorrow, did not know Yitzhak. And did not know the murder.”
Lighting a memorial candle the President said: “We, who failed to prevent the murder, are responsible for bearing that duty, our duty, for future generations.”
Polling suggests that Rivlin’s concerns are grounded.
Fuchs recently conducted a survey for the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank which found that half of Israelis feel the anniversary is a day like all others.
“The fact that so many people say it is a day like all others is very significant,” Fuchs said. Research by Fuchs suggests that there is a split in Israeli society when it comes to the anniversary. “More or less Rabin is becoming a figure only for the left, which wasn’t the case at the beginning, for at first also the right was saying, ‘how could this happen in our land?'”
Rabin’s assassination is commemorated by the Israeli state on the anniversary in the Hebrew calendar, but the annual rally organised by activists will take place next Saturday night, closer to the Gregorian date of his death.
The team behind the rally says that speakers will argue that Rabin’s assassination has an especially important lesson this year, as elections are expected to be called soon.
“The rally this year will serve as a warning against the growing atmosphere of division, incitement, and inflamed tensions ahead of the upcoming elections,” organisers said in their invitation.