The Day Israeli Democracy Almost Died

If we continue to commemorate the day of remembrance for Yitzhak Rabin with doleful public discourse and carefully chosen words of national unity, the day will come when the younger generation will not know that Rabin’s assassination and the terrible acts of incitement that preceded it, symbolize, above all, the demise of Israeli democracy. It’s time to stop denying the profound impact that this tragic event has had on the nascent history of the State of Israel.

What always comes to mind on Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day is the yearning for Rabin as person and a leader. The almost despairing Israeli public longs for an honest prime minister who means what he says; a prime minister who is both idealistic and pragmatic. Those who listen carefully to the collective expression of longing can hear the craving for quiet and calm. Our nation wants to unite, not divide; to come closer together, not further apart.

Stop the Incitement

Despite the desire for quiet, we must not obscure reality. We must not forget that thousands of Jews incited against a prime minister who led his people with tremendous courage. Rabin was chosen to pave the way – to build and implement a political plan that was approved by the Knesset. But despite the democratic procedure, he paid with his life over the very solution he tried to promote. Thus, besides mourning the loss of a man and a dear leader, we must also mourn the loss of the only solution to date for this country, which yearns for peace and quiet. The incitement and murder of the prime minister interrupted the peace process, and since then Rabin’s plan has not been returned to the political agenda.

Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day should not only be a day of mourning and soul searching to honour the memory of a leader and think about unity. It should also be a day in which we relentlessly search for the causes of this terrible assassination. Beyond state ceremonies, it is important that we consider the provocations and sedition that led to the terrible national mood and delegitimization of the prime minister, as both a leader and a person.

We Must Not Forget, Blur or Ignore the Facts

The assassination of Rabin did not happen in a vacuum; there was an assassin, a victim and a way that was destructed too. When we attend a ceremony in Rabin’s memory it is important for us to think about this. It is also important to reflect on how we lost our way and the factors that led to this. It is our duty to tell our children what happened and explain to them how our democracy almost collapsed.

To prevent violence becoming the foundation upon which we live and act, we must remember that the danger still exists. And what is this danger? It is the use of state tools and incitement to promote interests and satisfy individual needs at the expense of society and the common good. We must prevent this danger.

An Assassination Does Not Take Place in a Vacuum

In October 2017, Stephen Paddock murdered 58 people and wounded 546 attending a country music festival in Las Vegas. An hour later, he was found dead, after shooting himself. The mass murder was dubbed “the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.” A large number of weapons were found in Paddock’s room, all of which were legally purchased. Without diminishing the guilt of the man who committed this horrific act, it is important to draw attention to the fact that Paddock did not live in a vacuum. A man does not just get up one morning, grab a weapon and go out to murder dozens of people, or in Yigal Amir’s case, a leader heading towards a political solution.

These terrible acts take place in a political climate that fosters a social and media reality in which these atrocities are carried out. Such a context gives rise to violence, and once we understand this, there is hope that such actions will not be repeated.

Here and Now

We live in an era saturated with offensive political statements, violence and racism that do not come only from extremists but also from influential public figures. They are the ones who legitimize acts of hatred and national rage. We have lost the respectful national discourse that can contain several points of view, nurture thinking and bring about sustainable solutions. In its stead, a violent discourse has developed that poisons tolerance, encourages harming minorities and consequently divides the nation.

It’s Time to Take Responsibility

About two years ago, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu embarked on a multichannel campaign to convey one message – there was no connection between him and the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. There is no doubt that Bibi was not behind the assassination or the assassin, but to say that he and some of his party members had nothing to do with the incitement is false and distorted. Let’s not forget who led the speakers at the anti-Rabin demonstrations in Zion Square; who led the procession with a coffin at Ra’anana junction; and who held the signs ‘Rabin is a traitor’ and ‘Rabin is a murderer’.

Twenty-three years have passed since then, and people prefer to blur and forget the facts. We cannot simply look ahead. We must not forget the incitement and the hatred, not so as to reawaken them, but to be wary of them happening again.

Although this is a difficult time, I wish to end on a positive note. Although we have lost Rabin’s vision, I believe that change is still possible. I am convinced that even if the significance of the incitement and Rabin’s murder were distorted by interested parties, the younger generation will bring about change and insist that a plan for a political solution is again placed on the political agenda. Because the time has come for the law to be equal for everyone. There cannot be different laws for different people; we cannot allow for some to be judged according to halachic laws, some according to state laws and some according to laws of oppression. The law should be equal for everyone and everyone should be equal under the law.

About the Author
Shimon Sheves was General Director of the Prime Minister's office under the late Yizhak Rabin. He is currently the Founder and Chairman of HolistiCyber, which provides nation-state level cyber security solution.
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