What the Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin Can Teach America the Day After the Election

This morning Americans awoke to the aftermath of one of the most significant elections in American history.  And the coming days and weeks may find the country divided against itself, with many on edge fearing maneuvers to undermine the vote, angry demonstrations, and violence in the street.

Today also marks on the secular calendar the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Israel’s two-time Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.  Can Rabin’s legacy – his heroic life and tragic death – guide America at this moment of instability?

Last week in memorializing the late Prime Minister, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin reflected on Israel’s own political trajectory.  But he might as well have been speaking to America:

I find myself wondering today about the soul of this country that Yitzhak loved so much.  About the soul of its people, the soul of Israeli democracy which is robust but which we cannot take for granted….I fear that the flames within us are a danger to our home, to us all….The country is divided like the Red Sea between two camps and hatred bubbles up beneath our feet….We have a duty to repair the rupture…to teach ourselves that lesson again and again, until we internalize it…that we have no other country that we all love and that we have no other state, that we are its sons and daughters.

Rabin understood.  A military man who fought bravely for his nation since before its founding and wielded an “iron fist” as Israel’s Minister of Defense, he would come to ground his second term as Prime Minister in the faith that bitter enemies could learn to make peace.  He believed this not just of Israelis and Palestinians, but also of Israelis of opposing points of view.  In the latter, his country failed him.  Rabin’s death at the hands of a religious nationalist admonishes us against the perils of nativist rhetoric supercharged by divisive politics.

But so do terrifying plots to kidnap American governors.  Americans must not permit lawlessness to overrun the political process, or venom and vitriol to define the nation’s social discourse.  The long unfinished journey toward the fulfillment of Rabin’s vision demonstrates that hate and distrust are difficult to vanquish once they have taken hold of a society.

The most difficult, most important days of this election begin today.  Whatever its outcome, all Americans have a duty to repair the rupture, to restore civility to public life and heal the chasms that divide them, lest the damage take generations to undo.

About the Author
Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.
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