Lately, it seems Israel is under fire from all directions and – even worse –
providing some of the ammunition itself. Not only is it under attack from
outside, the country is shooting itself at home. Fortunately, so far this
shooting is figurative, but it is the time of year when we are reminded of what
divisions can do. This week, the country marks the 15th anniversary of the
Hebrew date of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Always an occasion for Left
to bash Right, or secular to knock religious, this year it seems worse than
ever. We have not learned much during the intervening decade and a
There are those on the Left openly calling for the rally in Rabin’s
memory to be turned into a political event (doing away with any pretense that it
was open to all). “The likes of [Education Minister] Gideon Sa’ar have no place
on the podium,” one organizer was quoted as saying of the Likud cabinet member
who addressed it last year.
Banning someone with different political
views from attending a memorial for a slain prime minister does not seem to me
the best way to foster democratic values. Liberal sentiments often disappear
with the memory of the trauma of burying Rabin and the recollection of the
grinning face in court of his murderer, Yigal Amir.
But if Amir succeeds
in making half the country thrive on vengeance, he will have achieved his aim:
using a bullet to deflect democracy.
Sometimes I think there is a camp
that resents the fact that it wasn’t someone from over the Green Line who killed
the premier for signing the Oslo Accords. It’s not as easy to blame every
resident of Herzliya as it is to stigmatize a settler. Left-wing politicians and
activists, those who regularly remind us that words kill, have no problem in
describing settlements as “cancerous growths.”
ALL THESE years later, one
wonders what Rabin would have made of it all. I can picture him with that shy
half-smile that so characterized him, but I also see him with that typical
dismissive wave of his hand. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have stayed in power.
Oslo was already literally blowing up before he was killed. Perhaps it is the
lack of the sodesired legacy of peace that encourages this reaction in both
The Left are not the only ones who have got into the
Rabin act. It’s hard to kill a conspiracy theory.
These are now being
actively sought by the Right.
The website of the Arutz Sheva radio
station went so far as to publish a contest for the best theory, turning the
assassination into a sort of reality show.
“If you belong to that segment
of the population which, in every social or family gathering feels a need to lay
out his Rabin assassination theory for everyone,” the call reads, “if again and
again you argue with acquaintances and thus come in for ridicule and insults...
then it’s just for you that we’re designating Arutz Sheva’s next project – ‘Who
Murdered Rabin – Your Theory.’” Of course the very existence of the radio’s
website demonstrates that all those who want it do have an outlet for expressing
their views. It’s called the Web. And it’s full of conspiracy theories. In that
sense, it’s more democratic than the central Rabin memorial rally.
not belittling the question marks that remain from the night of November 4,
1995. As the Post’s parliamentary reporter, I raised many of them myself in the
days following the assassination.
The trouble with conspiracy theories is
that they often assume a life of their own, and what starts out as sounding
reasonable is stretched and stretched until it is bled dry. This discredits all
that preceded it, until even the theories themselves are accused of being part
of a plot.
Like every Israeli of a certain age, I clearly remember where
I was when I heard that Rabin had been shot. I also remember the first
anniversary memorial in the Knesset. Ahead of the session, I called various
people to see if they had prepared speeches. Surprisingly, when I phoned Shimon
Peres’s office, he picked up the phone in person and invited me to collect a
copy of the text. There were no aides in sight. I remember thinking how strange
it was to see the man most thought would inherit the premiership so
Peres, never one to accept defeat despite plenty of practice,
finally became president in 2007. A probable indication that Rabin would have
backtracked had he lived, even Peres seems to have given up on Oslo, though not
on the chance for peace. Last week, for the first time since he was elected
president and assumed a statesmanlike manner, he was faced with heckling in the
Knesset at the opening of the winter session, and National Union MKs walked out
when he said: “There is a majority in this House for two states for two
There might be a majority but there is no
Netanyahu announced in his address that he would ask for a
settlement moratorium extension if the PA would unequivocally recognize Israel
as the nation-state of the Jewish people. (The Palestinians rejected the offer.)
Kadima head Tzipi Livni, sounding every bit like a woman scorned, used her
address to launch a personal attack on Netanyahu. Hint to Livni: What most of
your potential voters want to hear from you as leader of the opposition is some
sign of leadership. Opposition alone is not enough.
I sometimes think
that Netanyahu only keeps Israel Beiteinu as a coalition member – led by the
incredibly undiplomatic Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – because he can’t
face having to replace it with Kadima as long as Livni is in the top
Lieberman is not helping Netanyahu on the diplomatic front, unless
(conspiracy theory aficionados, wake up) he is doing Netanyahu’s dirty work for
him. And he’s not being useful at home either. Having angered (rightly or
wrongly) much of Diaspora Jewry over the so-called conversion bill, Israel
Beiteinu then raised its demands for a pledge of allegiance.
can’t think of a good time to bring this issue up. It certainly seems ironic to
try and enforce it in the name of preserving the Jewish and democratic nature of
the state. It’s also meaningless. As I pointed out when the issue was raised
last year, many of the MKs promoting the loyalty oath have in the past ridiculed
the idea of freeing terrorists in return for an easily broken promise to refrain
from future acts of violence.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE more severe the threats
from outside, the more extreme the domestic reaction. And I’m not referring to
The Threat from a nuclearizing Iran – I am less concerned that Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feels free to travel to Lebanon than that he is still
accepted as a speaker at the United Nations building in New York.
delegitimization campaigns abroad (OK, that sounds conspiratorial, but they do
seem orchestrated) feed on divisions at home. And vice versa.
last week carried a cartoon of a secular and a haredi Israeli – the former
asking “What is a Jewish state?” the latter: “What is a democracy?” Unless we
can pull ourselves together, the question might be “What is Israel?” When you
give your enemies so much ammunition, don’t be surprised when they start calling
the shots.The writer is editor of the
International Jerusalem Post.