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A ‘balanced’ Rabin rally does us all a disfavor

The event should be a chance to remind Israelis that incitement is still rife against the left -- not against the right
"The Moderate Majority will stand in the Square against division and incitement" Darkenu ad for Yitzhak Rabin memorial rally, November 2018
"The Moderate Majority will stand in the Square against division and incitement" Darkenu ad for Yitzhak Rabin memorial rally, November 2018

Memorials are meant to give us a chance for pause and reflection. As we grieve, we ask ourselves: What triggered such tragic events, and how can they be prevented in the future? In the case of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, we have long known the answers. The murder resulted from a culture of incitement against him for advocating territorial compromise with the Palestinians, and we must teach his story, combat incitement against the peace camp and the left, and do a better job to promote tolerance and democratic values.

These messages have been central to the annual Rabin commemoration rallies. Recently, however, new organizers aiming to strike a more “moderate” tone have sought to emphasize national cohesion, while downplaying the thornier topics of the elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace Rabin died for and of the rampant delegitimization and incitement against the left that persists to this day. Last year’s rally, co-sponsored by the center-leaning pro-two-state advocacy group, Darkenu, gave virtually no attention to these latter issues, and the initial ads for the event mentioned neither Rabin’s murder nor the word “peace.”

Darkenu is again organizing this year’s rally, yet has apparently failed to learn the lessons from last year. It has given the rally a general anti-incitement theme that glazes over the fact that overall incitement predominantly continues to come from one side, while again omitting any mention of peace.

It is difficult to convince the broader public that we need to have a talk about anti-left incitement, but that is precisely the role of the organizer responsible for Rabin’s annual commemoration: how to effectively transmit the key lessons from the assassination.

Universal vs. Particular Lessons

At the heart of it, the debate surrounding the Rabin memorial rally centers on a common trade-off: emphasizing universal versus particular lessons. Universal lessons can more easily appeal to a broader audience, such as the need to teach tolerance and classical liberal values in order to prevent further politically motivated violence in Israel.

Particular lessons, by contrast, shed light on more specific phenomena, which in Rabin’s case was the high level of incitement against the left and the peace camp, with no similar level of incitement against the right (case and point: the anti-Rabin rallies before the assassination versus the “Yes to Peace, No to Violence” rally at which he was later shot).

The universalism-particularism dichotomy is in fact well-known to Israeli society, to Jewish communities abroad and to Jewish thought. Arguments surface every year around whether commemorating the Holocaust should put more emphasis on fighting evolving forms of anti-Semitism (the particular lesson) or on combating racism and genocide around the world (a universal lesson).

The obvious answer is that we should address both the universal and the particular. It would be a lie to claim that previous Rabin rally organizers did not attempt to do just that. In many cases, they invited national-religious youth groups, featured right-wing speakers and specifically focused on healing left-right wounds and encouraging national unity, while still giving ample deference to the particular lessons of the late prime minister’s murder.

But if Darkenu thinks that it can do better to project universal lessons than these past rallies, the course of action needn’t be to disregard the particular lessons. Instead, its position creates a false symmetry, albeit unwittingly perhaps, between anti-left and anti-right incitement.

There is no left-wing wave of price tag attacks, no chants of “Death to rightists” at left-wing rallies, no pro-two state movements that have ever been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League or appeared on the U.S. State Department’s list of terror organizations, no far-left groups that frequently beat people up in the streets, and no instances of targeted killings against right-wing demonstrators, much less the prime minister. The word “left-wing” (smolani) has become synonymous in Israel with “collaborator” or “traitor,” while the word “right-wing” bears no equivalent stain. The vastly lopsided delegitimization in our country’s discourse is all too evident, with incitement remaining arguably as high as ever against anyone taking a dovish stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even condemning anti-Arab fervor (e.g. against President Rivlin).

The Moderation Excuse

This flawed strategy appears to come from a desire to look “moderate”—one of Darkenu’s buzzwords. This is an old mistake that just does more harm than good.

At best, these tactics preclude a discussion of an enduring trend undermining our democratic space. At worst, they abet the very forces perpetuating delegitimization of the peace camp, to which Darkenu belongs. The Rabin rally remains one of the only tools left in the peace camps’ toolbox to remind Israelis on a national stage that the roots of what led to our prime minister’s murder still plague our country.

Many less savory characters opposing the two-state consensus would like nothing more than to dilute the annual Rabin commemoration until it has lost almost all meaning. No matter how well-intentioned Darkenu may be, its attempts to skirt inconvenient details warps the Rabin rally into the ideal wishy-washy substitute these individuals crave. Darkenu’s pandering strategy is not an act of moderation; it is political cowardice and a surrender to extremism.

A true plea for moderation that does justice to Rabin’s memory would be to make the case for why incitement against the peace camp is an assault on us all. One doesn’t need to accept the two-state vision or the left’s agenda, but one can get behind the idea that delegitimizing one political camp harms the overall democracy our nation’s forefathers built, and that failing to reckon with the situation in Gaza and the West Bank will pose problems for us down the line.

We don’t need another vanilla gathering to pat ourselves on the back. If you want to galvanize the moderate majority, take on a real challenge to repair and strengthen our country—one worthy of Rabin’s legacy.

About the Author
Brian Reeves is the director of external relations at Peace Now.