Israel marks Rabins death as political waters boil

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JERUSALEM — Israel marked the third anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with memorial ceremonies over the weekend, as political leaders made renewed warnings about the dangers of political incitement.

After the Oct. 23 signing of the Wye Memorandum, the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been the target of slurs and posters similar to those directed against Rabin during anti-government demonstrations preceding his death.

Indeed, during Sunday's official state ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl Cemetery, hecklers jeered Netanyahu when he laid a wreath at Rabin's grave, shouting that Netanyahu had incited the murder.

Police dragged two protesters from the ceremony; five people were arrested Sunday for heckling the prime minister.

"He incited, he incited to murder," several people shouted at Netanyahu in the silence of the service, as he lay a wreath on Rabin's Mount Herzl grave. It was the first time the annual observance was disturbed by hecklers.

At the ceremony, Rabin's widow, Leah, did not shake hands with Netanyahu.

Leah Rabin had been among those in the immediate aftermath of the assassination who maintained that Netanyahu, then the opposition leader, had contributed to the atmosphere of incitement that made the assassination possible.

On Saturday evening, some 200,000 people took part in a memorial rally in Tel Aviv.

In an address to the gathering, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak had mild words of praise for the Wye agreement, which he described as "late, hesitant and full of contradictions, but better than pointless bloodshed."

On Sunday, in addition to the Mount Herzl ceremony, flags across the country flew at half mast and the Knesset held a special session to remember Rabin's slaying at the hands of Yigal Amir, a right-wing extremist opposed to the transfer of any West Bank lands to the Palestinians.

Former army chief of staff Amnon Shahak, speaking at the state ceremony, lashed out at those who still engage in incitement.

"Forgive us, Rabin, for not understanding what we see," he said. "And forgive us because there are those among us who do not know how to ask for forgiveness.

"They cannot differentiate between legitimate, ideological debate and the three bullets of a stupid fanatic," Shahak added, referring to the shots fired by Amir. "We must take an unbending position against those in the margins, to eradicate brutality."

At the special Knesset session, Barak called for a united effort to fight political incitement.

In his speech to the plenum, Barak said the first lesson from Rabin's assassination is that "words can kill."

"Traitor, death, and blood cannot be a part of a legitimate democratic debate," he said. "Today, we are calling for an immediate end to all incitement against the prime minister."

Netanyahu appealed to the legislators to overcome political rivalry and put an end to the sharp rifts in Israeli society.

"I hope we can extend hands and together put out the fire of hate," the premier said. "Peace is made first with brothers."

Netanyahu noted that "it is no secret that I did not agree with Yitzhak Rabin on the Oslo Accords, and also that we went in different ways." He said the government is trying to change the path "for the good of the state of Israel — this means the agreement that we inherited, and within the framework of the agreement."

But Netanyahu said this is "an argument about the path, not about the goal, as the aim to achieve a lasting peace and a better future for us and our children unifies us all, even if there is not agreement over how to reach the joint aim."

Netanyahu emphasized that it is forbidden to allow violence of any kind to enter the political debate. At the same time, he said that an entire public should not be marked because of the actions of an individual murderer.

Leah Rabin attacked Netanyahu when asked by reporters if the prime minister should have asked for forgiveness, saying that "there is no need to ask for forgiveness while the right is smearing the Rabin government about the terrible agreement they inherited. Everything is blamed on the previous government."

Israel Radio reported Sunday night that arsonists had torched a car owned by the parents of Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir.