Today is the 17th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. It’s hard to believe 17 years have passed since that tragic event. Last night I attended a memorial in Rabin Square; a memorial in which the overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of participants were small children (at most) when Rabin was killed. What lessons did they walk away with from last night’s ceremony? Frankly, I am not sure.
Yitzchak Rabin was one of this country’s true heroes. Rabin was an officer in the Palmach, commander of the Jerusalem Front during the War of Independence, and the Chief of Staff during the Six Day War. He was the first Sabra Prime Minister of Israel, and the first Prime Minister to resign as a result of a financial scandal. (His “scandal”– the fact his wife forgot to close a foreign currency account in Washington, DC when they returned from his stint as Ambassador to Washington, says more about the state of our current politicians than anything else). Rabin was not charged, nor was he personally accused of any wrongdoing. However, because his wife had technically violated the law, he felt honor bound to resign.
I had a few personal encounters with the Rabins over the years. There is one memory that remains with me to this day. One Friday afternoon when I returned home from the army, the phone in my apartment rang. Leah Rabin was on the other end of the line. She had met my mother while traveling in the United States with her husband (the Prime Minister) and just wanted to call to give me her regards.
Rabin was far from a perfect man, or perfect politician. His quote during the first Intifada referring to the Palestinians, stating: “we will break their hands”, was taken out of context. Rabin’s words were used as a propaganda weapon against us. His full quote was: “we will break their hands, so that we do not have to kill them” was ignored. In his first term as Prime Minister Rabin made many mistakes, mostly caused by his lack of experience in politics. These were mistakes this older and more experienced Prime Minister did not repeat in his second term.
Rabin agreed to the Oslo Accords. These accords were far from perfect; these accords were signed with a murderer. However, it is your enemies with whom you make peace, not your friends. It is said Rabin was willing to make peace with Arafat, and eventually agree to give up large parts of the West Bank, because he feared a greater hazard over the horizon– the threat of a nuclear Iran. Rabin believed that if we could defuse our dispute with the Palestinians, we could neutralize the Iranian threat. Unfortunately, we have failed to do either. The night Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated there was still hope in this country that we could bring about true peace.
It is possible that hope was delusional. However, we will never know. With Rabin’s death the Israeli right and the Hamas destroyed that hope– each acting alone. Hamas opposed any peace with Israel. They began a deadly bombing campaign that turned the Israeli public away from Acting Prime Minister Peres and directly toward Netanyahu. As a result, the Israeli Right political bloc– who after the assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister by someone from within their camp should have been trounced in the elections– instead had triumphed.
Once Prime Minister Netanyahu became Premier, the “language of peace” died. Netanyahu’s government made undoing the Oslo accords his priority. We will never know if we could have achieved peace in those hopeful days. Most likely not. I am one of those who seriously doubts the Arab world will ever truly agree to our existence here. However, we will never really know. Last night and today I have heard many on the right lamenting the assassination of Rabin, while in the same breadth attacking his policies, especially the Oslo peace agreement. As I said above, Oslo was far from a perfect agreement. However, those opponents have no alternative visions for a peaceful Democratic Zionist state– just a hope that it can all work out if we are resolute.
Last night the square was filled with young people, most of whom will soon be serving in the army. When Rabin was killed my own middle daughter was almost 3; today she is in the army. We will never know whether peace ever really had a chance. 17 years ago that hope was extinguished by a messianic religious student who believed his rabbi’s misguided, misanthropic indictment labeling Rabin as a “Rodef” (“one who pursues)”. The sentence for a “Rodef” is death; a death sentence which the dutiful student took it upon himself to carry out. Are there more people out there seeking or even willing to assassinate any of our leaders who act against their ideology? I fear there are!
Yitzhak Rabin was an honest and pragmatic leader of this country. He spent his life, and ultimately gave his life, trying to ensure the safety of the Jewish people. Have we learned the lessons of his life? Looking around at a country today, I fear we have not. Pragmatism has been replaced by ideology. Hope has been replaced by an underlying fear. It is not a fear in the day-to-day living (unless you live in the South). It is the future of our children and grandchildren for which I deeply fear.