On the 15th Anniversary of the Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
"You don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies." (Yitzhak Rabin)
This next week Israel marks the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's (za'l) assassination at the hands of an Israeli nationalist settler. This was a tragedy and trauma for the entire Jewish people. Even if one did not support Rabin's policies as prime minister, the use of violence to alter a democratic form of government is an extremist anti-democratic act. Israeli democracy has survived the trauma, but it has left lots of scars and even a few festering sores.
I bring Rabin's well known quote because I think it is still true. Peace remains elusive in the Middle East. Rabin, in my opinion, demonstrated the courage to forge the prospects of peace despite years of bitter war and terror. He did foster a dialogue with the Palestinians, which while badly frayed, continues to this day. Rabin was credible because he was a warrior. He was a leading general of the IDF and had fought in all of Israel's wars of its first two decades. He was a tough leader, but as a peace maker he commanded credibility.
He also aroused harsh venom of his Israeli enemies, especially the extremist Jewish settlers and the National Religious right. In 1994, the year after the Oslo accords and the year before his assassination, I had a sabbatical in Israel with my family. I recall the incendiary posters in every Jerusalem neighborhood depicting Rabin, the prime minister, in Nazi uniform or wearing the kafiyeh of a Palestinian terrorist. Settler Rabbis and extremists were calling for violent resistance and dramatic acts. I remember the vitriolic and irresponsible statements of various politicians during this period. When Rabin was assassinated the next year, I was beside myself, but not surprised given the ominous political atmosphere that I witnessed in Israel in the months prior to the tragic event.
Democracies are vulnerable when the political dialogue become poisonous, venomous, and demagogic. I see some worrisome signs in our own political culture, especially in the extreme and outlandish characterizations of President Obama. It is one thing to oppose his policies, it is another to call him a Muslim in order to manipulate prejudices, to gain votes, or to create general hysteria.
We still do not fully appreciate the historical legacy of Yitzhak Rabin and his unfortunate end. His death was a national and historic tragedy. It will take years to fathom all the implications of his assassination as dramatic events continue to unfold in Israel and the Middle East. We can only hope that the trauma of his last day will be an eternal warning to the Jewish people not to resort to a violence between Jew and Jew. We can only hope that Israel will be fortunate to be led by courageous and wise leaders who can negotiate the tricky and complicated paths to maintain its security and well being.
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg