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Commemoration of Rabin's assassination amid more hatred and incitement

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin adresses the Knesset on 3 October 1994 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images]
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin addresses the Knesset on 3 October 1994 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images]

Israelis commemorate the 26th anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. This commemoration comes amidst an unprecedented state of sharp polarization, exchanging accusations and recent voices expressing their fear of a return to the same inciting atmosphere that preceded the assassination, which was the first of its kind in the history of Israel.

A few days ago, a number of Israeli events were held to commemorate this anniversary in the presence of many political figures, who agreed that any Israeli who lived the night of Rabin's murder will never forget that moment. It was a shock that no words can describe, as a Jew had killed another Jew. In addition, Rabin represented, to many Israeli generations, the image that accompanied him storming into Al-Aqsa Mosque during the 1967 war.

A poll of many Israelis' views to comment on this memory has shown that, after these long years, Israelis are taking revenge on each other, and hatred and division among them are increasing. They may even lose Israel itself because of all of this. It is true that Israelis are putting all their efforts to enhance Israel's security from the outside, but they do not realize that they are on the way to losing their state from the inside.

The anniversary of Rabin's murder sends a warning to the Israelis about how debate between the left and the right wings should be, what the limits of this debate are and its red lines: basically, without anyone raising their hand against the other. Rabin was not a leftist when he was assassinated but, rather, someone who understood the dangers of a bi-national state with the Palestinians, therefore, he hurried to make an agreement with them. Incitement, today, is very similar to what Israel witnessed on the eve of his assassination, because instigators are uttering the same vocabulary and terminology.

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As for members of the Israeli right, they accuse those commemorating Rabin's assassination of setting up a political circus. It is true that they refrain from calling him a traitor—as the hard-liners of the right had accused him of being at the time—but they agree that he was wrong in his political direction with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, there is widespread hate, division and vulgar speeches against political opponents.

Moreover, the Israeli right wing considers the commemoration of Rabin's assassination to be a platform to attack those commemorating it. This has prompted some of its leaders to boycott the commemoration, stressing that there is no clear line between legitimate political statements and other inflammatory statements that might lead to political assassination and that discrediting any Israeli opposition to the existing government direction can leave negative effects on the Israeli masses, and pave the way towards committing more political crimes.

26 years after the assassination of Rabin, Israeli society is more divided than ever, and internal incitement has reached new heights. The stage that followed the assassination is considered one of the most dramatic times in the history of Israel. When Rabin was transferred to the hospital in a critical condition, Israelis hoped for two things: for Rabin to survive and for the shooter not be Jewish, but all their hopes were dashed.

Yigal Amir, Rabin's killer, was an extremist nationalist who was brainwashed. He believed that killing Rabin would bury the settlement process with the Palestinians and save Israel from the catastrophic consequences that would be inflicted on it. He continued to believe so even when he was behind bars, and that is why he was considered one of the most dangerous political assassins in modern history.

Rabin's assassination and his successor, Shimon Peres's loss of the elections 6 months later, in favour of Netanyahu, resulted in the collapse of the Oslo process, with Israel turning towards the right, and remaining there for a quarter of a century. Today, as Israel celebrates Rabin's memory, Likud and other parties' right-wing incitement, which had led to Rabin's assassination, has not stopped. On the contrary, the Shin Bet security service warnings of increased possibilities of violence, caused by the right-wingers incitement against Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, have increased.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in Jerusalem October 12, 2021 in Jerusalem [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021 [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

Even senior Israeli police officials do not hesitate to say that these days remind them of what preceded Rabin's killing. The hatred and division that we see in the streets are more dangerous than it was at that time and alarm bells are ringing, warning of another political assassination, as Likud activists are roaming the streets wearing T-shirts bearing the words: 'Leftists are traitors'. The former Prime Minister's son, Yair Netanyahu, has repeatedly tweeted against his father's opponents, accusing them of posing an existential threat to Israel, and describing them as being "as bad as Iran."

Today, more than a quarter of century after the assassination of Rabin, Israelis seem more divided between left and right and torn between supporters of Rabin and the Oslo process that he led, and opponents to it who considered handing over land to the Palestinians an unforgivable sin against the Torah. This shows how charged the atmosphere is, and how Israelis are torn between the two poles. In this sense, the current atmosphere is much worse, because internal collapse is happening so fast, and it is no longer a division between left and right but rather between persons of each camp, which makes it more dangerous.

It is true that half of the Israelis stand behind this camp, while the other half see it as a destructive force, posing a real existential threat to the future of Israel. In reality, neither of the two sides is ready to budge. In addition, right now, there is a mix between this intransigence and bitter incitement, with the deep economic crisis and the ongoing protests all over Israel. This, in turn, is putting everything at the edge of an explosion; all that is left is a spark to set the fire.

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The internal events that Israel is witnessing these days contribute to fuelling protests all over the state. Most of Israeli violence is accompanied by attempts to run over demonstrators, firing tear gas and pepper spray, stone throwing and clashes from time to time. Therefore, the atmosphere is very volatile, just waiting for someone to throw a match.

All of this confirms that Israel might be approaching another political assassination. The glue that used to hold the various Israeli tribes together into one nation no longer exists. This is evidenced by the fact that Naftali Bennett, himself, is well protected by the security services, as a lesson learned from the assassination of Rabin, and because the biggest threat lies in protests on Israeli streets.

The bottom line of the anniversary of Rabin's assassination is that the chances of trying to target someone else in Israel are increasing. The situation is becoming very slippery, and brakes are getting weaker, and there seems to be no way for Israel to escape from this intractable crisis.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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