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In a memorable speech delivered on the Hebrew University's newly liberated Mount Scopus campus less than three weeks after the Six Day War, Yitzhak Rabin questioned the very decision to grant him an honorary doctorate. "What have soldiers to do with the academic world, which stands for the life of civilization and culture? What have those who are professionally occupied with violence to do with spiritual values," asked the general who had just led a monumental military victory that prompted scholars to compare him to Hannibal and Napoleon.
Rabin's answer to his own question revealed a thinking that was much more Jewish than soldierly: "Our soldiers," he said, "prevailed not by the strength of their weapons but by their sense of mission, by their consciousness of the justice of their cause, by a deep love of their country, and by their understanding of the heavy task laid upon them: to insure the existence of our people in their homeland, and to affirm, even at the cost of their lives, the right of the Jewish people to live its life in its own state, freely, independently, and peacefully."
Ten years after his murder, the heavy task of which Rabin spoke remains largely elusive, and at least some of the lessons of his untimely death ignored.
Unlike many other land-for-peace advocates, from Ezer Weizman and Moshe Dayan to Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon, Rabin never went through a Greater Israel phase, and even his most bitter rivals could never accuse him of being inconsistent, let alone expedient, in choosing his convictions.
Yet Rabin's peace moves were controversial nonetheless. Ironically and tragically, the very consensus that he so eloquently described in June 1967, and which had resulted in that fateful month's sweeping military conquests, soon gave way to a debate that eventually debilitated Israeli society, splitting it down the middle.
In hindsight, that very debate was unaffordable, since it hammered at the very solidarity that is indispensable for any society's survival, and especially one as young, fragile and threatened as Israel's.
Rabin sought to end that debate once and for all. Even his opponents admired the determination with which he set out to untie the Israeli-Palestinian Gordian knot. At the same time, even his allies conceded that Rabin did not always, to put it mildly, attempt to so much as empathize with some of those whom his plans would cost dearly.
Surely, this excuses none of the abuse to which he was continuously subjected prior to his murder. It is also not to say that policy moves should always be consensual. However, in carrying out controversial policies, leaders must understand that their task is not just to devise and execute strategic plans, but also to be with those plans' victims, certainly emotionally, and when possible also physically.
For all Rabin's mistakes, they dwarf in comparison with the conduct of some of his opponents. Their failure back in the 1990s to keep the debate civil was politically catastrophic from their viewpoint, and morally corrupt from any viewpoint. Their nonchalant, even gleeful, resort to the basest rhetoric and depictions surely created an atmosphere conducive to Rabin's murder. If not the murder's shock, then at least the Likud's subsequent endorsement of the Oslo Accords, and Ariel Sharon's dismantlement of settlements, should have made them humbly concede that the arms they were twisting were not just this or that leader's, but mainstream Israel's.
Tragically, such humility has yet to emerge among the fanatics who now portray Ariel Sharon much the way they did Rabin before his assassination.
Sharon, for his part, also seems not to have drawn all the necessary conclusions from the murder. Like his good friend, the prime minister carried out a controversial scheme of his own, the disengagement plan, while focusing on maintaining his resolve and disregarding the need for persuasion and empathy.
As Israel solemnly remembers the brave leader who in six days beat three Arab armies that demanded war, only to be gunned down by a Jew who objected to the path by which he had chosen to pursue peace, we hope all Israelis will remember that the Jewish state depends on its citizens' mutual solidarity, and that such solidarity is about respecting and compromising with each other.
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