An Elegy, in Memory of Yitzhak Rabin

Last night I viewed the new award-winning documentary film called Rabin in His Own Words, directed by Erez Laufer with my wife, Amy, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, opposite the walls of the Old City. It was our way to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the assassination of our Prime Minister. I was surprised that so few people came out to see this wonderful film—I guess the security situation is keeping many people at home.

This was one of the most beautiful and inspiring Israeli documentaries that I have ever seen, and I was very moved by it. It was personal, poignant and professionally done.

I felt that I got to know Rabin the person, not just the military or political leader. There were wonderful still shots of his growing up in Petach Tikva and with his family—his mother, father, sister, wife and children– and many clips of home movies with the family at home or on vacation. And, in many of the interviews that were featured in the film, he spoke in a soft and even loving manner, with his typical shy smile and even with a dry sense of humor.  This was very different from the shouting  in his political days when he had to speak to big crowds.

In addition to this being a beautiful film, it was also a very sad one.

It became eminently clear to me throughout the film how much Rabin not only resented the religious and nationalist right-wingers for their messianic ideas which would only bring ruin upon Israel, but also how much they despised and vilified him for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinian people. Rabin understood from early on how dangerous the rejectionist camp was—and still is! –for the future of Israel. He talks about this from his first term as Prime Minister (1974-77)  in which some of the first settlements were set up illegally in the West Bank, through his service in the National Unity Governments  of the 1980s  with the Likud leaders of the time, and especially when he was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1992 and pursued peace actively, leading up to the Oslo Accords and until  his assassination in 1995.

I am not sure what saddened me more. The fact that so many governments have come and gone and the rejectionist right has outfoxed them (and the rest of the world!) for all these years, and continued to build settlements even though the entire Western World sees them as “an obstacle to peace”; or the level of hatred and incitement which was organized by the Israeli right against the Peace Process, especially during the years 1992-95, when Rabin and his government were making real progress towards peace. This incitement was led not by fringe elements in the right-wing of Israeli politics, but by the man who is currently the Prime Minister (we see him inciting against Rabin over and over again in the film)—who has the audacity to blame others for incitement—and by a man who became President of Israel and now sits in prison, after being convicted for rape charges.

The level of incitement—and the hatred we saw in the film in the eyes of so many so-called “religious” and nationalist right-wingers—was completely outrageous, outlandish, irrational and beyond belief. I came away with the clear feeling that it was without doubt that this incitement led Yigal Amir to assassinate Rabin, not to mention all the distorted so-called “Jewish religious” ideas that he learned from his rabbis.

In addition, I was impressed by Rabin’s sincere commitment to peace. I learned from the film how he negotiated (with the help of Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy) the interim peace treaty with Egypt during his first term as prime minister. This was the precursor to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, as a result of the Camp David talks between Begin, Sadat and Carter. And, I was deeply moved by his dedication to the peace process from 1992 until he was assassinated in November, 1995, despite all the violent opposition to it from the extreme right in Israel.

I came away with the feeling that Rabin had seen enough of the atrocities of wars in 1967 and 1973!! This was probably the major factor that catalyzed him to say over and over again that “there is no real alternative to peace!” In other words, he realized deeply what our current leaders fail to understand over and over again, that this conflict will not be resolved by military might or by occupying another people forever, but by dialogue and negotiations which will require painful compromises.



About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.