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Yitzhak Rabin 18 years on: Have we gone full circle?

Next Monday will mark the 18th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. For many, the murder of Israel’s Prime Minister by a fellow Israeli and a fellow Jew still resonates as if it occurred only yesterday. Undoubtedly, it is the biggest stain on Israeli society since the creation of the state.

Yet those with a less reliable memory, or who were perhaps too young to remember the event first hand, need only listen to the current rhetoric coming out of the Israeli political scene to get a taste of the sort of hostility and division of the Oslo era.

The recent spat between Economy and Trade Minister, Naftali Bennet, and Justice Minster and chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, has come to personify the current Israeli political schism, centred around the peace talks.

First, Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party in conjunction with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud, passed a bill preventing Israeli negotiators from deliberating on Jerusalem unless 80 out of 120 Knesset members give their approval.

Then in the lead up to the release of the second round of Palestinian prisoners, Bennett and his party bitterly condemned Livni for going ahead with the release.  Bennett was criticized for using the funeral of slain Israeli Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi, 20, as a platform for advocating against the release of Palestinian prisoners as a precondition.

“We must stop giving our enemies the impression that Jewish blood has become the cheapest commodity in the Middle East…make no mistake about us. We will not lay down our weapons. We will not blink,” Bennett said in his eulogy.

The war of words reached breaking point earlier this week when Livni’s Security Chief filed a complaint with the Jerusalem District Police after threats to assassinate the chief-negotiator were posted on her Facebook page and other threats were deemed serious. According to Y Net members of Livni’s Hatnua party accused Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi of “wild incitement.”

Hatnua MK Amram Mitzna, told the Times of Israel; “what the Jewish Home is doing is 100 per cent incitement. I recommend that everyone remember where those weeds sprouted from back then. We must view these things with the utmost severity.”

In response to these serious accusations, Bennett compared the attacks against him to those directed at Netanyahu who was criticized for his vocal opposition to the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. 

“We have found ourselves under attack over the past day.” 

“The goal is to silence us and tame us. If, God forbid, someone thinks a Palestinian state is a mistake, he is called a right-winger, extremist, fascist, and violent. But it doesn’t matter — we will not be silenced. We have clear positions and we are proud of them.”

Indeed, the media has capitalized on this row, painting it as an internal political war. Sensationalist titles such as The Australian’s “Heavyweights in Israel’s internal war” aim to embellish and dramatize.

Such division and disagreement is typical of politics, especially when the stakes are so high. However, the truth of the matter is that much of the rhetoric coming out of the Israeli political scene is concerning, echoing the hostility of Oslo, circa 1994.

When the second lot of Palestinian prisoners were released on Tuesday night Livni came out firm and fed up; “today it has once again been made clear that the government, in contrast to one of its member parties, is acting in the national interest and not according to the instructions of the rabbis in the West Bank.”  

Some will say that emotions were running high in the lead up to the release of twenty-six more Palestinian prisoners, especially against the backdrop of a recent wave of terrorist attacks.  One can only hope this is the case. (A partial list of the prisoners and their various crimes, can be found here).

One thing Israel has always had over the disjointed Palestinian camp is its ability to overcome political disagreement, and come together in times of hardship. This has worked in Israel’s favour, and sends a powerful message to the Palestinians and to the world at large. We should preserve this asset.

In conclusion, this bulletin intends not only to update community members on what is taking place in Israel, but also to analyse the nuanced ways these events play out in the media.  

For those of you who wish to access Haaretz (unfortunately it is behind a pay wall) I recommend you read an article by Amira Hass titled  ‘Little joy in West Bank as 26 Palestinian prisoners return home.’ Hass focuses on the “very high price – in human life, wounded and economic damage- that the Palestinians paid for the release of the prisoners in the Gilad Shalit deal.” It is perhaps the most demoralizing and saddening assessment of the current ‘situation’ coming from an Israeli that I have read to date.

About the incarceration of the relevant terrorists released this week, many of whom are responsible for heinous crimes, Hass writes; “the Israeli policy of arrests is seen as part of the apparatus of regular repression-institutionalized and planned- that is inherent to a foreign ruler that imposes itself on a population. The release of a few prisoners does not signal a change in the Israeli approach.” Yes, just a little food for thought.

This coming Sunday 3rd November the State Zionist Council of Victoria, partnered with the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia, Haseret Film Club, Habayit Home of Hebrew and Israeli Culture, The Jewish Agency for Israel and Australian Friends of Hebrew University will host the Community Commemoration for Yitzhak Rabin at Beth Weizman Community Centre at 3-5pm. We hope to see you all there.

Best Wishes,

Gabrielle Debinski

Media and Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia