Ner Yitzhak, the lighting of a memorial candle for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, each year sets a series of events around the country to remind the nation and teach its children of the values that Rabin held dear, and his belief as a long time warrior and former Chief of Staff, that peace with the Palestinians was possible. At the massive peace rally in Tel Aviv on the night on which he was later assassinated by Bar Ilan University law student Yigal Amir, Rabin declared: “I believe there is a chance for peace – a great chance.”
Amir was an ultra-nationalist who wanted to prevent Israel from making any concessions to the Palestinians in return for a peace agreement and shot Rabin as he was about to enter his car at the conclusion of the rally.
A whole generation has been born in Israel, without ever knowing Rabin – but they do know about him because no former leader of the country has been so greatly honored on the anniversary of his death.
President Isaac Herzog delivers a speech at the memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, October 18, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There is an official state memorial ceremony for every deceased president and prime minister at which eulogies are delivered by the existing president and prime minister, but in Rabin’s case, there are symposia, conferences, a special Knesset session, lectures in schools around the country, tours of the Rabin center, and peace dialogues in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv that was named for him after his death.
Some of these activities actually began on Sunday, though Monday, the 12th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Heshvan was the actual anniversary of his death, and the day on which President Isaac Herzog, lit the huge memorial candle known as Ner Yitzhak, and later participated in a state ceremony on Mount Herzl honoring the memories of both Yitzhak and Leah Rabin. He subsequently participated in the special session of the Knesset. He is the fifth president to do so. The various memorial events will continue until November 4, the Gregorian calendar anniversary of Rabin’s death.
Yigal Amir obviously did not realize that in killing the man who had been a hero of the War of Independence, the Chief of Staff during the Six Days War, Israeli ambassador to Washington, Defense Minister, the first sabra Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he immortalized his memory by making him the first prime minister of Israel to be assassinated – and worse still, to be assassinated by an Israeli-born religiously observant Jew.
It had been announced in advance that Opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not be attending the state ceremony at Mount Herzl, but he was also absent from the candle lighting ceremony at the President’s Residence, though former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were present, as was former president Reuven Rivlin along with Defense Minister Benny, Gantz, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, Culture and Sport Minister Hili Tropper, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Merav Michaeli. and Deputy Knesset Knesset Speaker Eitan Ginzburg.
Four generations of the Rabin family, headed by Rachel Yaakov, the 96-year-old sister of the late prime minister, were in attendance, and two of his great-grandchildren joined President Isaac Herzog in lighting the memorial candle.
The underlying message of the event as presented by Herzog, students of the Rabin school in Tel Mond and Rabin’s grandson Yonatan Ben Artzi who spoke on behalf of the family, was that of individual and national responsibility to accept others who may not look or think as we do, to stamp out hatred and incitement, and to join hands in national unity regardless of our differences.
Herzog noted that Rabin had been the military commander of both his father and his father-in-law.
Herzog also mentioned that next year the nation will mark the 100th anniversary of Rabin’s birth, and reflected on some of the historic events that had taken place in that period of time. He spoke of the Holocaust of the War of Independence in which Rabin had commanded the Harel Brigade and of the Six Day War in which Israel had won its greatest victory under the leadership of Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. whom Herzog described as “a leader of a different kind.”
Herzog, who since the time he was born knew Rabin, who had attended his circumcision ceremony, remembered sitting on a stone bench at the rally when Rabin gave his last address in which he advocated peace rather than animus. He could not forget he said, the enthusiasm with which the speech had been received and how Leah Rabin sparkled with joy as she received kisses from the people around her.
Herzog emphasized the memorial day for Rabin is not just for the man himself, but for the remembrance of political murder in the sovereign state of Israel, born out of hatred, incitement and horrible extremism which threaten the democratic character of the state.
He attributed some of the social divisiveness to modern technology, which he said can connect people to each other in the blink of an eye but can also tear them apart.
Yonatan Ben Artzi said that the anniversary of his grandfather’s death leaves no Israeli untouched, but for members of his family, it’s a daily loss. They remember Yitzhak Rabin’s valiant efforts to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians while defending Israel’s democracy.
Harking back to the hatred and incitement which caused deep rifts in Israeli society on the eve of Rabin’s murder, Artzi said that in recent years, hatred, incitement and violence had prevailed, but 2021 had been a turning point. “After years of fear and paralysis, the citizens of Israel straightened their backs and stood upright. Liberty and democracy triumphed and overpowered verbal and physical violence and the culture of tyranny and lies. The rule of the people defeated the one-person rule. Gone was the notion of a single privileged individual.” The inference to Netanyahu was loud and clear. It was time for the nation to overcome its trauma and to begin to heal, said Ben Artzi.
Netanyahu’s reported reaction was that he has always been used as a political foil at Rabin memorial events. If he showed up he was attacked, and if he didn’t show up, he was also attacked.