Walking around the memorial rally in Rabin Square Saturday night was a strange experience, and left me feeling a mix of belonging and discomfort. Although there was an attempt to keep the event apolitical, the speeches didn’t lack for partisan political content. As I understand, Israeli politicians were not invited to speak, but this welcome gesture inexplicably did not extend to American politicians, who didn’t hesitate to use the opportunity to push their own political agendas.
I’ll be honest. Yitzhak Rabin is not my hero. He is not my role model. I don’t look back fondly on the work he did and speak wistfully about his “dream” for the country. I have no desire to continue in his footsteps. When I do think of him, I think of a man, who throughout his lifetime did some very good things and some very bad things. I think of a politician, some of whose policies were justifiably disliked and feared. I think of a soldier who fought many wars for his country, and would later (though I’m sure this was not his intention) almost abandon its citizens for a piece of paper and a handshake.
I tried to think of ways I might feel more welcome at this event. Would I have objected to speakers from “my side” using the stage to promote policies that I agree with? Would that kind of equal representation satisfy all sides, or simply turn the memorial into an uncomfortable public debate, with speakers competing for applause from a divided audience? Having no balance at all seems wrong, but introducing even a little may just compound the problem.
Yet despite the unequal representation on stage, there were a plenty of attendees that I didn’t expect. Some religious, some right-wing, led most visibly by the religious Zionist youth group B’nei Akiva. One might wonder: why would ideological opponents of Yitzhak Rabin attend his memorial? He was a relatively partisan prime minister, whose policies were incredibly controversial both while he was alive and after his death. Many countries have unfortunately become familiar with political assassinations. However, it is rare that the country as a whole commits to remembering the assassination of such a divisive leader, devoting the anniversary to nation-wide soul-searching.
And what should the goal of this soul-searching be? Is the message of the memorial that the Left was right all along? That can’t be it. The assassination of a man does not make his opinions more palatable to those who disagreed with him while he was alive. Nor should it. Policy should be decided over time, through clear-headed debate and exchange of ideas, not in a guilt trip every year on the anniversary of someone’s murder.
The truth is, looking for balance is the wrong approach. The true essence, the source of our emotional reaction to the memorial is beyond politics. A truly inclusive event would not try to cater to every participant’s opinions, but would transcend them.
Bringing politics into the memorial dilutes the real message of the day which we can all unite around: the fact that the Jewish people are a family. When this reality is internalized, violence and murder become inconceivable. When we forget that and allow ourselves to be overcome by our differences, the consequences can be disastrous. The act of a Jew murdering another Jew must be so intolerable to us that we are willing, happy even, to put aside our political disagreements and come together as a people, to reaffirm our commitment to each other. To emphasize that our differences, however stark they may seem, are ultimately external and superficial, and what binds us is eternal and unbreakable.
All sides must take steps to achieve this. The Left must be brave enough to push past the obvious reaction to the tragedy and look for the deeper meaning. The Right must be strong enough to reject reactionary politics and to show up to the discussion. And all should realize that this tragedy is not owned by any side — it touches us all equally.