Everyone knows where they were the night Yitzchak Rabin was murdered. I know where I wasn’t: I was not in Israel when Rabin was killed. I wasn’t in Israel when the Oslo accords happened either. I had an opinion about all of it, of course. But my opinion didn’t count because I was a Diaspora Jew in Florida buying my white Starkist tuna and soft tissues in big boxes, reading about Israel’s issues in the newspaper and a bit here and there on the emerging Internet.
My opinion didn’t count, but I will share it here anyway: My 23 year-old self was deeply against “Oslo.” I had intense distrust of Arafat (shocker), was largely pessimistic about the possibility of a real peace with the Arabs, and was profoundly skeptical of the wisdom of giving guns to our sworn enemies so that they may “keep the peace”… But when Rabin was killed — and by an Israeli Jew — I was devastated.
Back then I was fairly right wing. Much, much more right than I am now, when I identify a lot closer to the center. I saw Rabin as the architect of what seemed to me to be a very bad deal. Over twenty years later and I am unconvinced that Oslo was a good idea. But that’s water under the bridge, and not my point here.
You see back then, and not much different than now, or twenty years before then, or from time immemorial, Israeli society was significantly divided. Oslo did nothing to unite people; if anything the atmosphere was more polarized than ever.
I’m not a historian. This is about feelings not facts. And I have a feeling that if I had a shekel for every challenge on social media demanding to know what the National-Religious do to commemorate the life and murder of Yitzchak Rabin — well I would have a big handful of change. I’d like to propose that all those asking are missing an important point.
Of course the National-Religious teach about Yitzchak Rabin and commemorate his murder. Naturally! He was an Israeli war hero, a twice-elected prime minister, and deeply involved in Israeli politics when he was not the premier. He was the architect of a highly controversial peace plan that merited him a Nobel Peace Prize. And he was murdered in a moment that shocked the nation by a right-wing, kippah-wearing Jewish extremist who was opposed to this same peace process.
Something broke in our beloved country that fateful night in November 1995. I wasn’t there; I can only report what I was told. But people who wore kippahs, or otherwise looked like religious Jews, people who held right-wing views, and especially those who were vocally opposed to the Oslo accords were often automatically associated with the kippah-wearing murderer. Orthodox Jews on the street were accused of murder by random strangers. They were spat at. Glared at. Treated as persona non grata. Yes, this happened. A lot. That suspicion, distrust, bad feelings continue in some way to this day. It doesn’t need to; it shouldn’t.
We don’t always choose our heroes. For those who have embraced the peace process as it was set forth at Oslo, Rabin is larger than life. Despite an extremely rich and varied public life, Rabin is viewed primarily as a symbol of the Israeli-Arab peace process. His legacy is his final major contribution to the world. He is seen as a visionary. A hero. Those who see him that way are right. He was all of those things. And there is another side.
To those who opposed Oslo, believing it could never achieve peace, Rabin was misguided at best, reckless at worst. Hardly the stuff of heroes. Of course Oslo could not erase decades of Rabin’s public service, achievements, or the sacrifices he made for his beloved Israel. But it certainly caused what were expected to be irrevocable changes to the reality in Israel. For those who were opposed, these changes were potentially disastrous. Agree or disagree with this opinion, it is a valid opinion. Holding such an opinion does not make one an enemy. Holding an opinion does not make one a murderer. Of course not…
How will Yitzchak Rabin go down in history? It depends upon who you ask. But more importantly — MOST importantly — when you ask, listen to the answer. Truly listen, and treat the responder with respect, regardless of what they say. Because really? We can’t make peace with anyone until we make peace among ourselves.