by Noam Dvir
Protesters use plastic "vuvuzela" horns to disrupt speech by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi at memorial ceremony for slain PM in Tel Aviv
Organizers say 80,000 people attended a unity rally marking the 23rd
anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, in Tel Aviv,
Photo: Gideon Markowicz
What was touted as a moderate political rally in honor of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and against division and incitement quickly turned into a left-wing demonstration on Saturday.
Protesters gathered in the front rows at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square and used plastic "vuvuzela" horns to disrupt a speech by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud). Others carried signs accusing him of incitement.
In his remarks, Hanegbi said that "On that night [when Rabin was assassinated], I felt that if I could have, I would have jumped between the killer and his victim and taken the bullet instead of the prime minister.
"One can and should argue about the path," he said. "Disagreement and criticism are the strength of a free society. But the incitement and violence must be totally rejected. If we want to survive, if we are unwilling to give the despicable killers a victory, we have only one path before us: to prefer what unites us over what divides us."
Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi party head Naftali Bennett took to Twitter to condemn the crowd's treatment of Hanegbi.
"This was a shameful leftist demonstration. It was not the Right that murdered [late Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin but Yigal Amir. I am sick of the annual baseless accusations from the Left. People on the Right do not need to come to a rally aimed at condemning the Right."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticized the attack on Hanegbi.
"It is unfortunate that they have turned the rally into a political convention. Those who exalt the freedom of speech are trying to silence all those who do not agree with them."
Asked whether he regretted attending the rally, Hanegbi replied that he was glad he had delivered his remarks.
The first speaker at the event was Zionist Union faction leader Avi Gabbay, who said, "In the years that have passed since the murder, a generation was born and grew that did not get to know the Israel of Yitzhak Rabin. You did not get to know the prime minister who cared about our lives. You did not get to know the prime minister who put security before everything else but bravely strove for peace.
He said, "I see our young soldiers lying on the batteries across from [the] Gaza [Strip]. I see the pain of the parents running anxiously to the security room. They already understand there is a political battle in the cabinet for votes. They know Rabin chose peace and fought Hamas. Netanyahu gave up on peace and gave in to Hamas!" He said, "Under Rabin, they never would have closed the emergency room in Kiryat Shmona." Calling on the crowd to raise their heads and not live in fear, Gabbay said, "We can win if we follow Rabin's path."
Protesters use vuvuzelas to interrupt a speech by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, Saturday
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid also drew boos from the crowd during his speech, in which he said, "The murder did not bring us closer. The incitement has gone back to being a tool. We are run by paranoia. All of the claims are black and white: us and them, good and bad. Hatred and fear and violence are political tools. … Rabin's murder was not just a murder, it was also a threat - the threat of the next murder. When the prime minister was murdered, it became an option. It is a gun lying on the table. The gun is here again."
Lapid, a political centrist, said, "It is actually because I am not on the Left, because I have disagreements with [the Left], that I feel obligated to warn that when the government says that anyone who thinks differently from it is a traitor and aiding the enemy, it takes us down a dangerous path and that must end.
"There are extremes on the Right; there are extremes on the Left. We have an obligation to stand against them. But not everyone who thinks differently is radical and an existential threat. Not everyone who thinks differently is an enemy. It is not the entire Right that murdered Rabin. It is not the Left that is responsible for the attacks and the terrorism."
Opposition Leader and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni and Meretz party head Tamar Zandberg also spoke at the protest.
Under the headline "The moderate majority stands up to division and incitement at the [Rabin] Square," rally organizers Darkenu and the National Union of Israeli Students said some 80,000 people took part in the rally, a questionable claim given that the square was not packed during the event and nearby streets were empty.
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