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Remembering Rabin, assassinating his rivals’ character

Because of the brouhaha surrounding Bezalel Smotrich’s speech at the memorial for Israel’s slain prime minister, another address received a lot less attention than it deserved: the one delivered by Merav Michaeli.

Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Knesset ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Knesset ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Nov. 6, 2022. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich took the lead this week as Israel’s big, bad bogeyman, temporarily surpassing Itamar Ben-Gvir, No. 2 on his list, as the most slandered soon-to-be Cabinet minister.

In his speech on Sunday to the Knesset—during a ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—Smotrich challenged conventional dogma surrounding the Nov. 4, 1995 event that traumatized the nation. It was such a controversial move on his part that even those of us who agreed with his remarks gasped at the bravery it took for him to utter them in this particular forum and context.

Rabin, he said, is due “great credit in the revival of the people of Israel in its land [as a] commander of a battalion in the Palmach; commander of the Harel Brigade in the War of Independence; chief of staff [of the Israel Defense Forces] in the Six-Day War in which our capital, Jerusalem, was liberated; the prime minister responsible for the release of Entebbe hostages in Operation Jonathan; and more.”

However, added Smotrich, “He was also a prime minister who led the State of Israel to a destructive process—the Oslo Accords—the repercussions of which are evident to this day.”

This simple truth was sufficient to cause an uproar in the “peace” camp, whose representatives were either voted out of office last week or relegated to the back benches of parliament.

But what he said next aroused more general ire. Refuting the accusation that the assassination was a direct result of incitement by the Benjamin Netanyahu-headed opposition at the time, Smotrich declared: “Those who failed to protect Prime Minister Rabin were not the right-wingers, religious Zionists and settlers—who justifiably decried his government’s policies—but rather the Shin Bet [Internal Security Agency].”

He went on to say that the ISA not only failed to protect [Rabin], but also “employed irresponsible manipulations, which haven’t been fully exposed to this day, to encourage the murderer [Yigal Amir] to carry out his plan.”

Smotrich was referring to former ISA agent Avishai Raviv, codenamed “Champagne,” who was dispatched to live for an extended period among, and provide intel on, a group of Jewish “extremists” that included Amir.

In one section of the 1996 Shamgar Commission of inquiry into Rabin’s killing, Raviv is reported to have said that he heard Amir invoking din rodef (the Jewish “law of the pursuer,” authorizing the extrajudicial killing of a person chasing down another with the intent to murder) against Rabin, but didn’t take it seriously.

The ISA was furious with Smotrich for having the nerve to cast aspersions on its use of Raviv as an agitator in an operation aimed—let’s face it—at snuffing out obstacles to Oslo. The press, on the other hand, was delighted to have an additional opportunity to bash the religious right-winger whose party won a whopping 14 mandates in the Nov. 1 Knesset election.

This took the form of allegations that he’d resurrected a debunked conspiracy theory about Amir’s not really having been the person who fired the shot that ended Rabin’s life.

Smotrich promptly set the record straight.

“There is no conspiracy,” he tweeted on Monday. “The despicable murderer, Yigal Amir, killed Yitzhak Rabin [of blessed memory], and we are all still in pain and shock from [it]. Yes, there was a significant failure on the part of the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet, and yes, to this day, it refuses to take responsibility. [Yet] the media, as usual, is again engaged in distortion and misrepresentation.”

Because of the above brouhaha, another address at the Rabin memorial received a lot less attention—and derision—than it deserved: the one delivered by Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli. After praising Rabin as a paragon of “courageous leadership” for his “far-reaching vision to change Israel’s place in the Middle East and the world [and] guarantee its security and future,” she tweaked his legacy.

Updating it to jibe with her own “woke” ideology, she hailed her political forebear as someone who fought for “equal opportunities for all female and male Israeli citizens, with an emphasis on rectifying the injustice done to the periphery and Arab sector.”

Under the circumstances, she might be given a pass for having injected this bit of harmless and slightly amusing historical revisionism into her tribute. What she followed it up with, however, was inexcusable.

“I tried to imagine what … Rabin would be doing during these difficult … days of political defeat and the transfer of the government into the hands of those whose incitement campaign preceded his heinous murder,” she said. “How would the courageous leader proceed? Would he give up? Would he feel sorry for himself? Would he recoil in the face of wild, unrestrained attacks?”

The answer, she asserted, is one we already know: “In the days when the calls of ‘traitor’ were heard from all corners of the country, and bands of inciting activists threatened him and his family, he stood solid as a rock … that only the murderer’s bullet was able to topple.”

Thankfully, neither the media nor the likes of Michaeli were able to keep the electorate from putting more faith in Netanyahu and Smotrich than in the forces bent on vilifying them. When confronted with reality, we Israelis tend to believe our “lying eyes,” not the myths perpetuated by ill-wishers and their peace-fantasist fellow travelers.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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