Exploring the spectrum of Israeli music, from Aviv Geffen to HaDag Nahash, and art exhibits that commemorate Rabin and honor his contribution to the State of Israel.
It was the day that democracy in Israel was murdered. Just over 20 years ago, on the 4th of November, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated after attending and speaking at a demonstration titled, “Yes to Peace, No to Violence.” Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, was murdered because of his political beliefs and the actions he had taken to secure peace in the State of Israel. Throughout Israel, the past month has been filled with ceremonies, exhibits, concerts and demonstrations dedicated to the memorial of Rabin.
During this time every year, Israeli youth movements tend to focus on the implications of a political assassination rather than the act itself. They focus, in particular, on incitement to violence and question whether Yigal Amir (the Israeli right-wing extremist who killed Rabin) really is responsible for the murder of the Prime Minister. The question does not stem from conspiracy theories or whether or not he really pulled the trigger that sent three bullets through the back of this beloved leader. Instead, they debate the impact of incitement campaigns led by the political right at the time, the religious educators’ approach and views of Rabin, and apathy of the public when violence and incitement began crossing lines.
The Israeli youth mourned the tragic loss of the prime minister who believed in the morals and values of youth movements around the world: acceptance, peace, democracy and the end of violence. After his murder, tons of adolescents and youth leaders, appropriately nicknamed “Candle Youth,” gathered around the Kings of Israel Square (later renamed Rabin Square) to light candles, to sing songs of hope and peace, and to commemorate their loss. Rabin’s death inspired many young artists to express their feelings of loss, helplessness, hopelessness and frustration at the Israeli public, particularly at the Israeli political right, through music and various forms of visual art.
Many songs by different singers and songwriters that have become strongly connected to Rabin’s life, murder, and legacy were included in the album “Shalom, Chaver” (1995). Among these songs is Aviv Geffen’s “Livkot Lecha” (To Cry For You). The Israeli rock star initially wrote the song in memory of his friend who was killed in a car accident, but sang it at the demonstration on the night of Rabin’s murder. Since that night, Geffen’s song took on new connotations and is now one of the most popular songs sung at memorial ceremonies for Rabin. Other songs such as Shlomo Artzi’s “Ha’Ish Ha’Hu” (That Man) and the Hebrew rendition of Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” took on new meaning following the assassination. They have become iconic songs dedicated to commemoration of the life and death of the then-prime minister.
The songs written by the younger generation as a reaction to Rabin’s murder conveyed anger, and accurately portrayed the general loss felt by the youth of 1995. Meshina, an Israeli rock band of the same era, performed their song “Tachzor, Tachzor” (Return, Return) with a spoken part read by Yossi Banai, an Israeli performer and singer, describing the night that Rabin was murdered and the emptiness felt by the entire country during the days after his murder. The song ends with the words, “Something in my life must change,” so as to describe how the assassination steered the State of Israel onto a political path from which Israel, to this day, has not looked back.
The Israeli hip-hop/funk band HaDag Nahash has alluded to Rabin’s death in the past, most memorably in their song “Shirat Ha’Sticker” (“Song of the Sticker”) that mentions two different bumper stickers that refer to his death. The first mentions a sticker that reads “Chaver, ata chaser” (Friend, you are missed); the second, “Hakol bi’glalcha, chaver” (It’s all because of you, friend). The former sticker describes a longing for the prime minister who represented a peace process that the younger generation could believe in. The latter, popularized by Rabin’s opposition, blames him for the present lack of security that Israeli citizens are forced to endure. On both bumper stickers, “chaver” is the name given to Rabin because of the eulogy given by Bill Clinton at Rabin’s funeral, in which he described Rabin as his “friend.”
HaDag Nahash’s song “What Would Be If” was published on YouTube on October 15, 2015, making it the most recent memorial song for Yitzhak Rabin. The song explores the question that many contemporary young people, and adults who were still young at the time of the murder, ask themselves: “…[A]nd above the heads of my exhausted people, a floating tear, and inside it, three words: What would have been if?” Sha’anan Street, the songwriter, seemingly talks to Rabin throughout the song, emphasizing the absence of peace and the escalation of violence and terror in Israel. “Your Six Days blossomed a hundredfold, and nowadays, not only we declare victory, and to think that you had the courage to change, and to think that you raised up to fly and went far enough to see, and to think that you managed to understand: what would be if?” Street describes the war that Rabin saw and which raised him to fame, and highlights the fact that so little has improved since then. In fact, the status of Israel today is so much worse than it used to be. He also reminds his audience that Rabin was one of the true trailblazers of peace in Israel and unwaveringly worked towards what then seemed like the achievable goal of peace in the Middle East.
The Holon Institute of Technology and the Yitzhak Rabin Center hosted two separate gallery exhibitions for artists who created posters to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the assassination. Many of the posters were politically and emotionally charged, often shaming or blaming a part of Israeli society for forgetting the murder, for forgiving the Israeli right’s incitement to violence, or for allowing and continuing apathy toward the brutal murder of democracy. The three holes in the pattern of the bullets shot through Rabin’s back are a constant motif in many of the posters. Netanyahu is featured in some of the posters because he was the head of the Likud party during Rabin’s term, and thus he is generally given almost full credit for the incitement campaign against Rabin.
The most difficult poster to observe, in my opinion, is by Oded Ben Yehuda and features a famous picture from the Independence War in 1948, with the words “If you murder, it is no dream” written in Hebrew, as a spin on Herzl’s famous saying, “If you will it, it is no dream.” In Hebrew the words “murder” and “will” differ by a single letter, giving way to this clever, insightful, and alarming play on words. This piece elaborates on the idea of the murder of democracy: no longer is it unacceptable to violently retaliate against an elected leader for making certain decisions (even if part of the population disagrees). Israeli society learned after Rabin’s murder that democracy is a suggestion and that violence is the shortcut.
The number of articles, eulogies, and essays written about Rabin is almost unbelievable. For this reason, the younger population and those who do not believe their feelings can be expressed with another article, another book, or another blog post turn to art and music for true self-expression. It has become easier for Israelis to forget the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and through art and music, we as a people can renew his memory in our hearts and allow Rabin’s dedication to peace to live on for many more years and generations to come.