Facing threats to his own life, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stood beside Yitzhak Rabin’s grave Wednesday and apologized for his role in inciting anger against the premier in the tense months before his assassination.
Before he was killed by an ultra-nationalist Jew, Rabin had came under a barrage of increasingly personal verbal assaults from hard-liners — including Sharon — opposed to his land-for-peace deals with the Palestinians.
“The arguments were never personal. ... They were over issues affecting the heart of the nation and its fate,” Sharon said at a memorial ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of Rabin’s assassination on the Hebrew calendar.
“If during the heat of this real debate I said things I shouldn’t have, I am sorry for that,” Sharon said, standing by the black and white marble grave marker.
In the months leading up to the Rabin assassination, hard-liners branded him a traitor, rabbis issued rulings calling for his killing and Sharon spoke at a tempestuous rally where posters of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform were displayed openly.
Now Sharon, pushing his own plan to give up territory with a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of increasingly personal attacks.
Sharon’s apology came one day after he pushed parliament into voting to withdraw from Gaza and a small section of the West Bank. The vote came on the Jewish calendar anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.
Opponents of the plan have waged a strident verbal campaign against Sharon that officials have compared to the poisonous political climate that preceded Rabin’s 1995 assassination.
New posters in the campaign against the plan accuse Sharon of “tearing the nation apart.” Others show a picture of Sharon, the word “crazy” and three question marks across his forehead.
On Tuesday police arrested three youths for spraying “We killed Rabin and we will kill Sharon,” on Jerusalem walls.
“The threats published in the last few days on the life on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon represent the feelings of the fanatics among us that Sharon is going in the path of Rabin in demanding that the nation give up land to pursue peace,” said Justice Minister Yosef Lapid.
“We see clear similarities between what happened nine years ago and the stormy atmosphere today,” Lapid said at a later memorial in parliament.
Demonstration at Knesset
On Tuesday, thousands of Jewish settlers demonstrated outside the Knesset, or parliament, in a boisterous show of force, denouncing Sharon as a traitor.
Sharon entered the parliament building ahead of Tuesday’s vote surrounded by an unprecedented 16 bodyguards — reflecting security officials’ fears of an attack by right-wing extremists who believe the prime minister is forsaking God’s will by giving up parts of the Biblical Land of Israel.
Speaking at the parliamentary ceremony Wednesday, Sharon appealed to the nation to abide by the rule of law, even in the face of his divisive plan.
“The future of the state is dependent on every one of us accepting the democratic decisions of the government from the moment they are accepted,” he said.