I will never forget the night of Rabin’s assassination. For days afterwards, I could viscerally feel the terror and shame, the fear and the foreboding, in my stomach, in my bones. And here we are again marking 26 years since that dreadful night when a Jew, an Israeli citizen, murdered our PM, Yitzchak Rabin z”l and the country felt like it was ripped apart.
Have we learned the lesson of his assassination? Wait! What are the lessons of his assassination?
Every year, there is debate, arguments, and acrimony about what to remember on this day, how to remember. With not a little irony, the speeches at ceremonies, rallies and in the Knesset tend to agitate and arouse conflict. Speeches accuse and blame. There are state commemorations on the Hebrew Yahrzeit, and a Tel-Aviv rally on the secular anniversary – your memorial is not my commemoration! Many on the left want this day to mark and bemoan the collapse of the “Rabin Legacy” – in other words, the Peace Process – a red flag for the right. Others see the anniversary as a moment to warn of the danger of political incitement.
These fall flat as a collective moment, a time to mourn, and mark a national tragedy. They exacerbate and amplify political divisions, as one party targets the actions and views of the opposite side. As a result, we have the accuser and the accused. We are unable to stand united in remembrance when one side is singled out, shamed and alienated.
Furthermore, the calls condemning the incitement and delegitimization of elected leaders ring dreadfully hollow after the past two acrimonious and ugly years in which relentless weekly demonstrations have targeted Netanyahu as “Crime Minister,” and a “Dictator,” while the right wing have vilified its opponents and delegitimized them. Just this year, the head of the Shin Bet warned that the specter of incitement-fueled political murder was real and present. Have we learned anything since the assassination?
So where does this lead us? For me the commemoration of the anniversary of Rabin’s murder is significant and important, because it is an annual reminder of how volatile and dangerous our reality can become, how we can become our worst enemies, rupturing and destroying our collective existence from within.
A DIFFERENT COMMEMORATION
If the deep danger highlighted by this day is the anger and violence that fractures our nation, then the fact that the Rabin assassination has become political battering ram, certainly defeats the point. Rather, we must reorient this day, re-frame and re-craft this annual moment as a springboard to unite; to forestall the discord and division, the hate and alienation that characterized the period before Rabin’s murder. How do we do that?
What if “Rabin Memorial Day” was a tool to educate, a time to talk and debate as to how a diverse and fractious society might learn to coexist and thrive despite its differences. It would be a day on which we should be restating our commitment to learn how to talk and conduct a dialogue across the deep ideological divides that characterize our society.
On this day we should internalize deeply that as a nation, there is a covenant that binds us all in a single society, that violence destroys, and that we all lose when one side strongarms the other.
Some have already learned this message. The “Asefa Yisraelit” (Israel Plenum) organizes discussion circles around the country. Ceremonies on the Education Ministry website speak of the need for constructive conflict and dignified discussion. But sadly, in the Knesset and in the public rallies, vitriol and aggressive language still are the major tone.
And here I wonder whether our current government, with its vast range of political opinions, might offer some insight into this dynamic.
In his UN Speech, PM Naftali Bennett spoke about the “disease of political polarization.”
“In a polarized world, where algorithms fuel our anger, people on the right and on the left operate in two separate realities, each in their own social media bubble, they hear only the voices that confirm what they already believe in.
People end up hating each other. Societies get torn apart. Countries broken from within, go nowhere.
…About a hundred days ago, my partners and I formed a new government in Israel, the most diverse government in our history. What started as a political accident, can now turn into a purpose. And that purpose is unity.
Today we sit together, around one table. We speak to each other with respect, we act with decency, and we carry a message: Things can be different.
It’s okay to disagree, it’s okay — in fact vital — that different people think differently, it’s even okay to argue.
For healthy debate is a basic tenet of the Jewish tradition and one of the secrets to the success of the start-up nation. What we have proven, is that even in the age of social media, we can debate, without hate.”
For Bennett, what started as an “accident” has become a culture which he is embracing. Now I am not here to give accolades to Bennett or to support one party over another, but this government is doing something very unusual. It is taking a wide and clashing array of political opinions, personalities who disagree, and they are demonstrating that they can work together. If they succeed in living up to statements such as these, this is indeed a different culture of government.
And this is the sort of political culture that I feel we need to stimulate and cultivate as we use “Rabin Day” to reconsider what a mature and responsible democracy looks like, what a dignified political, public and civic culture can be.
Because what we really need to understand is that politics cannot be a zero-sum game, that there is a “day after” for every political campaign. A day in which we must continue to live together and work together. We have more in common than divides us. What we seek is unity, not uniformity.
We must learn to call out and censure politicians who demean their opponents. We shouldn’t tolerate it. There are no sons of light and sons of darkness in our society. Political power must come together with sensitivity to every sector of society. Responsible citizenship must mean that we guard our actions and our language while fighting for the cause we believe in. There are ways to talk, to argue, to govern, that confer dignity and respect, that raise everyone.
If we can do this, then possibly we can begin to heal the wounds that killed Yitzchak Rabin 26 years ago.