Hitherto, I was loath to publicly express my feelings on the sensitive subject of the Rabin “heritage.” I do so now because I am enraged at the cynical, even obscene manner, in which the memory of an assassinated prime minister has been transformed into a cult to promote political objectives to which Rabin adamantly opposed, even at the height of the Oslo period of his career. Worse, his name is being exploited to intensify divisions, create hatred and collectively demonize and transfer the guilt of a demented evil assassin on decent law abiding sectors of society.
In the course of my years as a leader in the Diaspora before making aliya, I had considerable interaction with Rabin when he was prime minister and minister for defense. On my frequent visits to Jerusalem, Rabin would usually set aside quality time for private personal discussion. As an Australian, I found his frankness refreshing and developed a warm relationship with him. He disliked small talk and was inclined to say whatever was on his mind. Such was the nature of the man.
I liked Rabin. He was no “intellectual” but contrary to allegations by some of his right-wing critics, even when misguided he was always motivated by genuine patriotism and a desire to act in what he considered to be the best interests of the nation.
Oslo proved to be Rabin’s undoing. It was widely recognized from the outset that Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and their cohorts had sandbagged him into endorsing policies which utterly conflicted with his long-standing attitudes. As the process began unraveling, he became increasingly impatient, inflexible, and aggressive toward his critics.
Like most Diaspora leaders at the time, despite reservations, I was disinclined to criticize the security policies of the elected government, and remained on the sidelines, at times even publicly defending the government. Nevertheless in the course of my private encounters with Rabin I shared with him my growing concerns. I clearly recollect him telling me repeatedly that Oslo was a “gamble” but that he felt obliged to put it to the test. “If it fails,” he said, “we will have a carte blanche to take everything back.” In retrospect I find it difficult to accept that he really believed what he was saying.
It is therefore clear that despite the best possible intentions, Rabin gambled and failed. As a consequence, the nation paid a bitter price. Since Oslo, 1,400 Israelis were killed and some 20,000 injured. Despite one-sided and unilateral concessions, our geopolitical position is at an all time low. Beyond that, we made an irretrievable blunder by literally resurrecting Arafat who at the time, in the wake of the first Gulf War, was effectively a political corpse, even reviled by the Arabs.
To make matters worse, Rabin was only able to pursue Oslo by indulging in one of the most cynical acts of political corruption in Israel’s history, shamelessly bribing unsavory opposition members in order to achieve a Knesset majority. It is therefore surely surrealistic, year after year, to hear speeches sanctimoniously extolling and misrepresenting Rabin’s allegedly glorious Oslo legacy and spuriously claiming that he was the first to achieve a historic breakthrough in peace with the Arabs. Promoting such fantasies renders a disservice to Rabin.
It is even more infuriating when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Peres and Peace Now activists have the gall to claim that they are implementing Rabin’s vision. How Rabin may have acted had he not been struck down by the assassin is open to conjecture. Some speculate that once he came to the realization that his gamble had failed, unlike his Labor successors, he would have reverted to his former stance and initiated tough and resolute military action.
However, what is surely beyond the realm of speculation is that Rabin was a genuine Labor Zionist and despised the Peace Now agitators. He displayed uninhibited contempt toward Beilin, Burg and the young radicals who were then steering the Labor Party toward post-Zionism. The bitter remarks about Shimon Peres which appear in his memoirs speak for themselves.
Indeed, even at the height of the Oslo debate, Rabin’s views remained diametrically opposed to the proposals now emanating from those claiming to have inherited his mantle. For example, in one of his last speeches in the Knesset, on October 5 1995, only days before his assassination, referring to borders Rabin said: “We will not return to 4 June 1967 lines.”
In relation to Jerusalem he said “First and foremost, united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel under Israeli sovereignty.”
And about settlements he stated “We committed ourselves before this Knesset not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim government and not to hinder building for natural growth.”
In this context, for Prime Minister Olmert and his allies to continuously proclaim that they are fulfilling Rabin’s vision is pure Orwellian double speak.
But the problem transcends misrepresenting themselves as heirs to Rabin. Just as Oslo supporters in their time falsely depicted disapproval of Oslo as “incitement” against Rabin, so today much of the legitimate condemnation of the current government policies of unilateral concessions, is again being dubbed “incitement.”
To make matters worse, by collectively portraying entire law abiding sectors of Israeli society especially Orthodox Jews and settlers, as sub- human accomplices to the Rabin assassination, the promoters of the personality cult are themselves indulging in outright incitement and defamation.
The media is also behaving shamelessly by giving exaggerated prominence to the miserable murderer and his family, to fringe groups agitating for the parole of the assassin, and to worshipers of a crazed murderer like Baruch Goldstein. Clearly the role of these contemptible marginal groups is being exaggerated totally out of proportion in order to stifle legitimate criticism and undermine freedom of expression.
Irrespective as to whether or not it is appropriate to call for a moment of silence to commemorate the memory of a murdered prime minister at a soccer stadium, the abominable behavior of despicable louts that profaned that moment of silence, reflects adversely on the entire nation. But having said that, let us be clear than any form of collective demonization or incitement invariably creates ugly backlashes.
Yitzhak Rabin should be commemorated as an assassinated Israeli Prime Minister who served his country with distinction as a leader, military commander and diplomat. However such commemorations must be apolitical and promote harmony and unity, expressing a tragic national loss as opposed to indulging in divisive and provocative political opportunism.
This, I believe, is how the overwhelming majority of Israelis would wish to honor the memory of Yitzhak Rabin.
The writer is a former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress and a veteran international Jewish leader.
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