Tel Aviv Diary: Netanyahu is Just Like Trump—He Revels in Demonizing the Opposition

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands withIsrael Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

On Saturday night, 80,000 people filled Rabin Square to mark the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Speaking at the event were leaders of each and every party from the center-Left, as well as one member of the government—whose words was met with boos. A powerful, focused speech was delivered by Opposition Leader (though not the head of the Zionist Union party,) Tzipi Livni, who gave an impassioned plea for the Left and center to unite to save Israel and the future of Israeli democracy.

It was, however, centrist leader Yair Lapid who made one of the most controversial statements at the rally. As per his usual electoral pitch, Lapid made it clear he was not a leftist. And while obviously decrying the assassination, he added: "There are fringes on the right. There are fringes on the left. We have a duty to stand against them. But not everyone who thinks differently is an extremist and an existential threat. It wasn't the entire Right that murdered Rabin. It isn't the Left that's responsible for terrorism." Lapid's declaration was very similar to the remarks made by President Donald J. Trump after the attacks in Charlottesville — "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence, on many sides. On many sides, many sides."

The memorial was still going on when Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted that it was "a disgusting left-wing rally." Bennett went on to state it was not the right-wing that killed Rabin, just one man — the killer, Yigal Amir. This is the same Minister who flew to the United States on the night of the Pittsburgh shooting to comfort the Jews of Pittsburgh, but then let loose a series of tweets praising President Trump for his stances on Israel, ending with "…yet some people are using this horrific antisemitic act to attack @realDonaldTrump. This is unfair and wrong. President Trump is a true friend of the State of Israel and to the Jewish people." A view not shared by many American Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined in criticizing the latest Rabin memorial, claiming it had been turned into a political rally by "the radical left" and retweeting tweets that claimed the whole purpose of the rally was to "silence the right". That assertion was levelled shortly after Netanyahu tweeted a video thanking President Trump for reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak made it very clear how strongly he disagreed with the position held by Bennett and Netanyahu with regard to the memorial rally. In a video, Barak released Barak he stated there can be no national reconciliation until Netanyahu and the Rabbis of the settlements admit their role in creating the climate that led to the assassination of Rabin. Barak decried the false equivalency of violence on the Right and the Left.

The parallels between the unwillingness of President Trump, along with much of the Republican party, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, together with a majority of the Israeli right-wing, to take any responsibility for the impact of their words is stunning. A week before the Pittsburgh synagogue slaying Yitzhak Rabin's granddaughter, Noa Rothman warned—"If you do not stop the campaign of incitement, the scourge of divisiveness between us, the tongue-lashing against whoever and whatever doesn't align with your way of thinking, blood will be spilled here again."

Today, the Republican party led by Trump calls Democrats "the radicalLeft" and connects them with imagery of borders overrun by crime-infested immigrants from the south. In Israel, the right-wing led by Prime Minister Netanyahu labels many of the opposition parties "radical leftists" and conjures images of a country overrun by Arabs.

At the rally speaker-after-speaker longingly recalled the hope Rabin represented for a better tomorrow. Rabin indeed spoke of a better future. Netanyahu has made a career of warning about the dangers the future holds. Among President Trump's first words in office were: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now." Trump replaced a President whose message was consistently one of hope.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands withIsrael Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

On Sunday morning after the rally, Speaker of the Knesset MK Yuli Edelstein stated that the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin had no historical impact. This pronouncement uttered by Likud MK Edelstein was met with a certain level incredulity since most historians credit the killer with carrying out one of the most successful political assassination in history. The right-wing has been in power in Israel for almost all of the 23 subsequent years. While there is undoubtedly a historical question as to whether Rabin would have been able to achieve a final peace accord with the Palestinians, (as it does require two sides to reach an agreement), there can be no question that what the assassin did succeed in doing was to extinguish the hope for a better future among a large part of a generation of Israelis.