What could be more natural than the mother of an Israeli teenager, killed by Hamas terrorists, cursing all Palestinians and all Muslims? But that’s not how Rachelle Fraenkel, the mother of murdered Naftali, reacted. She was instrumental in the establishment of Jerusalem Unity Day which is intended to preserve and expand the unity that was felt throughout the world when the three Jewish teenage boys were abducted and murdered.
As YnetNews relates, ‘Fraenkel already felt the need to act by the time Barkat had approached her with the idea for a Jerusalem Unity Prize. “We became very aware of the special spirit that evolved over that summer and we personally felt a responsibility both to give back and to try to preserve that spirit,” Fraenkel noted to TPS (Tazpit Press Service.)
In addition to the awards ceremony, the special spirit noted by Fraenkel is preserved on Jerusalem Unity Day through a plethora of events and activities promoting the concept of unity throughout Israel and the Jewish world. “Jewish communities are doing things to bring different types of Jews together both in the State of Israel throughout the education system, the army, youth movements, and in adult education as well as in 25 other countries around the world,” Fraenkel explained. “In Israel, this also includes other populations such as the Druze, Arabs, and people that are marginalized for other reasons like special needs and we hope that out of the bitter comes forth sweetness.”
Fraenkel says that when people in Israel look back to that bitter time, they always recall that sweet sense of unity that existed throughout the country and that it serves as a motivating factor for any future challenges. “When people recall that period, I see that they remember the tragedy and sometimes have tears in their eyes, but they also feel good about who we were as individuals, as a people, and about our ability to connect with and really care about and open up to other kinds of people,” Fraenkel told TPS. “That’s something that we like remembering in order to be able to reach that point again in the future.”
Fraenkel hopes not only for internal Jewish unity, but for unity with Israel’s Arab neighbors as well. “When I speak to my children who lost their beloved brother to a group of 30 Palestinian terrorists who organized the attack, I tell them that I don’t want them to be raised on hatred,” Fraenkel stated. “I make sure that they know the difference between Hamas and our Arab neighbors.” “It sounds like a cliche,” Fraenkel noted. “But it’s simply about the ability to open up and feel close to others despite the differences and to find common ground.”
What a contrast with Leah Rabin who had the very normal reaction of lashing out against the Israeli right wing after the assassination of her husband. I often wonder how Israeli politics and society would have evolved if Leah Rabin had reached out to unify Israeli society after the assassination of her husband.
An article in the LA Times of November 1995 describes the situation, ‘Leah Rabin was still unforgiving Monday after she and her family listened to Netanyahu plead at the Knesset for national reconciliation. “It’s too late,” she told a television interviewer as she left the hall. “What happened wasn’t a bolt of lightning from the heavens. It grew from the soil, a very particular soil.”
It was Leah Rabin who delivered the first and most devastating blow to Netanyahu after her husband’s assassination. She barely shook the Likud leader’s hand at Rabin’s funeral, then bitterly denounced both Netanyahu and the Likud in a Cable News Network interview. “Surely I blame them,” she told CNN. “If you ever heard their speeches, you would understand what I mean. They were very, very violent in their expressions.”
In fact, Netanyahu did speak out against calling Rabin a traitor before the assassination.
Following the Rabin assassination by the kippah wearing Yigal Amir, everyone wearing a knitted kippah was looked at as a potential murderer. It’s no wonder that the right wing in general, and the religious-Zionist in particular, drew its wagons in a circle and avoided self criticism. Perhaps, if there had been a spirit of reconciliation after the Rabin assassination, the right wing would have cleaned house and would not have tolerated the radicalization typified by the ‘wild weeds’ and hilltop youth of today. Perhaps the hundreds of ‘price tag’ incidents including the throwing Molotov cocktails into the homes of Palestinians would not have occurred. Radicalization, when all of a group is criticized for the misdeeds of a few of its members, is a threat today. Politicians who accuse entire ethnic groups of being rapists or terrorists are a danger to our society.
Perhaps reconciliation or even peace with the Palestinians would have been at hand if there had been an effort to forge national unity after the Rabin murder. Today, the prospects for a two state solution are less than dim according to David Makovsky and Dennis Ross. In an article that appeared in the June 1 issue of the Times of Israel, they argue, ‘At present, the only other real option is to restore a sense of possibility and preserve hope for a two-state outcome — but that requires Israel and the Palestinians to take substantive unilateral steps toward accepting each other’s core requirements. For Israel, this means limiting its settlement activity along the lines of the putative agreement between Netanyahu and Herzog, making clear that there will be no Israeli sovereignty on the Palestinian side of the security barrier, and signaling its willingness to negotiate a different final border if Palestinians come to the table. For the Palestinians, this means stopping the antinormalization campaign against contacts with Israelis, ending payments to families of people who are killed in the act of stabbing Israelis, and ending the practice of calling such people “martyrs.”’
They conclude, ‘Skeptics will cast doubt on whether Netanyahu and Abbas can actually implement such options — indeed, Abbas is unlikely to change his strategy at first because he favors internationalization. Therefore, the initial pressure to act will fall on Netanyahu.’