It was autumn in New York – a typical Shabbat afternoon – and I was reading and napping on the couch of my Upper West Side apartment when my attention was grabbed by my father’s voice over the answering machine (if that doesn’t make sense, ask your parents). The news he somberly announced gave me one of the great shocks of my life.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin had been assassinated.
Three years prior, near the end of the year I spent studying in Jerusalem, I did some menial volunteer work on behalf of his party’s campaign. Shortly after, I headed back to the US to take part in the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, who would come to see Rabin as a father-figure, and who, that same November evening, made famous the phrase, “Shalom, Chaver”
There was much to admire about Rabin, from his lifelong commitment to building the state of Israel, to the risk he took in pursuit of peace. But what I admired most about him was the demeanor with which he did it. There was no joy in reconciling with the master terrorist Yasser Arafat, an individual who had the blood of thousands of Israelis on his hands – only the sober hope of ushering in a better tomorrow. And if one watches images from the Oslo announcement on the White House lawn from September 1993 carefully it is readily apparent how Rabin registered that balance with his body language, when President Clinton tried to bring Arafat and Rabin together.
Aside from mourning the tragedy of his loss, and the loss of innocence that it represented for the State of Israel, there is one more point which needs emphasizing as we recall his blessed memory, and that is this:
To say, as many do, that Rabin’s murder ended the hope of the Oslo process is a corruption of history. Rabin’s suspicion of Yasser Arafat’s sincerity was in strong ascent at the time of his death, as confirmed by many, including the unimpeachable Elie Weisel, also of blessed memory.
Rabin had been crystal clear that evidence of Arafat’s involvement in terror would mean an end to engaging with him — and that evidence was abundant not long after Rabin’s death. The much more likely outcome, had Rabin lived, is that he would have called out Arafat’s duplicity and put a stop to the process himself.
Oslo was a well-intentioned, even courageous, attempt to end the conflict with the Palestinians. But Oslo failed because Arafat — far from being reformed, was duplicitous. When he told Arab audiences that actually he did not accept Israel’s permanence, that was when he was being sincere. On President Clinton’s last day in office, when Arafat called to congratulate him on his success, Clinton shot back, “I’m a colossal failure, and you made me one.”
Yitzchak Rabin was a hero and a martyr for the state of Israel. His murder remains one of our darkest hours. Let us remember all that he did for the State of Israel across his long life of service to his country. Let us mourn his death. And let us never forget the despicable act which ended his life and traumatized a generation of Israelis.
But let us also not exculpate the terrorist Arafat by pretending that had Rabin lived, peace with our Palestinian neighbors would have soon followed.