Memorial events were held Monday in Israel to mark 26 years since the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other top Israeli officials — with the glaring exception of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — attending the official state ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery.
“On November 4, 1995, Israel was on the brink of an abyss,” Bennett said in his speech during Monday’s state ceremony. “The lesson I took away from Rabin’s murder — under no circumstances, no matter the situation, should the nation be torn apart.”
“We mustn’t burn our house down. We are brothers. The only comfort from this terrible murder is the fact that we managed to flourish, to correct,” he added.
Netanyahu — who attended in previous years when he was prime minister — did not explain his absence. His office only said he was not obligated to attend and would speak later at a special Knesset session. However, there has long been tension between Netanyahu and the Rabin family, which again surfaced during this year’s events, held on the Hebrew anniversary of Rabin’s death.
During an event held earlier in the day at the President’s Residence, Rabin’s grandson hailed the change of government earlier this year that removed Netanyahu from power.
“After dark years of fear and [political] paralysis, Israel has won. In the face of a culture of tyranny, the people won. This morning, 26 years after that terrible night, I can say that the mourning period is over,” Yonatan Ben-Artzi said.
“The rule of the people has triumphed over the rule of one,” he continued. “It is thanks to this victory, achieved 26 years after that horrendous night, that I can look you in the eye… and say: Mourning time is over. Let us learn from our past and embark on a new road.”
He also argued that the political divisions in recent years were worse than those in the lead-up to Rabin’s assassination by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo Accords and giving control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians as part of the landmark peace agreement.
“Flashes of November 4, 1995, reappeared in everyone’s nightmares as if threatening to recur. But the division, the form, and the language are far worse than 26 years ago. Yet the peril remains unchanged: a gun held by a despicable madman idolized by an infuriated and provoked mob,” he said.
Rabin’s family has accused Netanyahu of playing a part in public incitement against Rabin prior to his death. Netanyahu has regularly rejected the allegations.
“The rule of the people triumphed over the rule of the individual?” Likud said in a statement hitting back at Ben-Artzi. “It’s exactly the opposite. It’s the individual who defrauded the nation to steal power.” The statement was in apparent reference to Bennett, whose alliance with a diverse array of political parties landed him the premiership, despite his holding just six parliamentary seats.
Speaking before Bennett at the main memorial event, President Isaac Herzog said it was incumbent on elected officials and public servants to exercise “moderation, caution and reassurance.”
“Our words and of our associates are the most combustible material,” he said. “We will always remember that a rift caused the murder of a leader in Israel and we will do everything so such an incident does not happen again.”
Dalia Rabin, the late premier’s daughter, thanked Bennett and Herzog.
“It was worth suffering 26 years to get here and hear the moving words of the president of the state and the prime minister. I am proud and happy,” she said.
During the ceremony, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was seen leaving his seat as rocket sirens sounded in the south. The military later said the sirens were a false alarm.
Rabin was a legendary Israeli military leader, commanding a unit in the pre-state Palmach fighting force and then rising through the ranks as a career soldier to become Israel Defense Forces chief of staff at the time of Israel’s Six Day War victory.
He then launched a political career that saw him serve two stints as prime minister.
After he was elected premier for a second time in 1992, he sought to make peace with the Palestinians, trying in vain to forge a permanent accord with PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with then-foreign minister Shimon Peres and Arafat for his part in signing the Oslo peace accords. Some on the left believe his assassination thwarted prospects of peace with the Palestinians