JERUSALEM — With the formal mourning period for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over, Israel's largest opposition party began fighting back Monday against charges that it helped create an atmosphere of violence that led to Rabin's assassination.
In a special parliamentary session held in Rabin's memory, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu called for national reconciliation but lashed out at those who he said would "blame half the nation" for Rabin's assassination.
"Any attempt to use this tragedy to achieve political gain and to incite against half the nation is totally unacceptable," Netanyahu said. "We must be careful not to put collective blame on a whole public that is loyal to the state and respects its laws, and I'm referring to the religious public and the settlers of Judea and Samaria, a public that is being harshly attacked these days."
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu met with acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres and said after the meeting that they had agreed to work together to calm the nation.
"I thought it was important to have this meeting because it's important to change the reality in Israel," Netanyahu told reporters. "It's important that the prime minister and the head of the opposition each act to ensure that the debate will be to the point, legitimate."
But Netanyahu also wrote an opinion piece, published Monday in the Jerusalem Post, in which he said that charging the Likud with responsibility for Rabin's murder is McCarthyism.
"The most outrageous charge is that we are guilty because we share with the assassin the idea of opposing the Oslo [peace] agreements," Netanyahu wrote, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian accord championed by Rabin. "This is McCarthyism at its purest."
"We cannot allow an entire public to be tainted, especially the national religious public," he told a Likud memorial gathering for Rabin on Sunday night. "This is an attempt which is dangerous to democracy. We must not regress into a war between brothers. We must call to national reconciliation and fight this handful of violent extremists."
Netanyahu has much to fear if the political climate does not change, political analysts said. In the 10 days since a right-wing Jewish law student gunned down Rabin after a Tel Aviv peace rally, Netanyahu has suffered public humiliation at the hands of Rabin's widow, as well as threats on his life and a steep plunge in his and his party's public-opinion ratings.
Avraham Diskin, a political scientist at Hebrew University, said he is shocked by the willingness of political leaders and the general public to blame the entire right half of the political spectrum for Rabin's death.
"People are very emotional and very intolerant at the moment," he said. "The question is: How long will it last?"
Leah Rabin was still unforgiving Monday after she and her family listened to Netanyahu plead at the Knesset for national reconciliation.
"It's too late," she told a television interviewer as she left the hall. "What happened wasn't a bolt of lightning from the heavens. It grew from the soil, a very particular soil."
It was Leah Rabin who delivered the first and most devastating blow to Netanyahu after her husband's assassination. She barely shook the Likud leader's hand at Rabin's funeral, then bitterly denounced both Netanyahu and the Likud in a Cable News Network interview.
"Surely I blame them," she told CNN. "If you ever heard their speeches, you would understand what I mean. They were very, very violent in their expressions."
A pale and visibly distraught Netanyahu rejected her charges on state-run Israel Television the night they were broadcast and said he had told demonstrators it was wrong to call Rabin a traitor or a murderer. But Netanyahu began receiving death threats, and the nation's jittery security service increased the number of bodyguards protecting him.