From left to right: PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, foreign minister Shimon Peres and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin show their shared Nobel Peace Prize awards to the audience in the Oslo City Hall in Oslo in this December 10, 1994, file photo.
(photo credit: GPO)
Yitzhak Rabin did not die in a car accident or under natural circumstances.
Rabin was assassinated. Three bullets were shot not only at him, but also at Israeli democracy itself. An individual extremist held the gun, but the bullets were loaded by the unprecedented campaign of incitement and political violence that began following the signing of the Oslo Accords.
On this Saturday evening, 5.11, the moderate majority of Israelis will assemble at the Rabin Square to remember the leader Rabin was, his political path, and the lessons that still need to be drawn from his murder, upon commemorating its 21st anniversary.
Before addressing contested issues like the delineation of our borders, the rules of the debate must be drawn again. Beyond questions of policy, one cannot deny that the political discourse since the 4th of November 1995 became unbearably toxic.
Rabin was one of Israel’s giants, a pioneer in the Palmach who led the Israeli army as its chief of staff through the Six Day War to a glorious victory, with conquests of the Golan Heights, West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.
Rabin was also the prime minister who went on to conduct peace talks, signing the Sinai Interim Agreement in 1975 with Egypt and the Interim Self-Government Agreements with the Palestinian leadership.
History, however, is not only made up of paradigmatic shifts, like the one Rabin himself described about being a “soldier in the IDF” and becoming “a soldier in the army of peace.” Rabin was not only a national leader – he was also a personal political mentor and inspiration to me. When he ran for the party leadership against Shimon Peres, I was one of only six members of Knesset in “Rabin’s camp.” For me, he was Yitzhak.
As he toured the country ahead of the general elections, he had asked me to set up his rallies in the country’s development towns. Being a long-time resident of the Negev and a former mayor in my hometown, Sderot, I had intimate knowledge of the grievances people held there against Mapai, the old Israeli Labor Party. I knew the justifiable anger against the socialist party, which did all the possible mistakes in its past to make Mizrahi Jews feel excluded from society. However, it was also clear that the neoliberal policies of the Likud were far from being the solution.
Word of our public events had spread like fire. Massive crowds took the streets to see the great army and political leader connect and engage with him eye level in open space Town Hall meetings and rallies.
The secret to his attraction was his honesty, which is often sorely missing from contemporary politics. To all Israelis, as well as his international counterparts, Rabin was a man of his word, which is also why both those who agreed with him and those who disagreed with him were so intensely engaged and mobilized.
One rally I particularly remember was in the small town of Dimona. The Likud’s “Rabin-Silencing Squads” got there ahead of us. Dozens of activists would come with whistles and horns, which would be blown the moment when Yitzhak began to speak.
His thick baritone pierced through the cacophony and reverberated: “You are not leaving the Likud. It is the Likud that abandoned you!” And from there the shaking heads turned into nodding in agreement, making Rabin one of Israel’s greatest prime ministers also with regards to social justice. Growth rates of 12% were accompanied with unrivaled investments in the people: in education, health, infrastructure, and the narrowing of social gaps. Today, as Israel trails in the last places in OCED’s ranking of public spending on services to citizens, a social reform is as crucial for Israel’s future as a diplomatic breakthrough with our Palestinian neighbors.
The night of Yitzhak’s murder was painful to the whole nation, but especially to those who knew the kind man that he was in person and who were there in the square, where the chants of peace were interrupted by three bullets, which our society still bleeds from to this day.
There are many ways to remember Yitzhak Rabin. On Saturday evening, in the square, we shall assemble again to remember, but also to stand up for a detoxification of the hate-infused political discourse in Israel, and trigger the long overdue healing process our society needs.Amir Peretz has been a member of Knesset since 1988. He is a former defense minister and Labor Party chairman, head of the Israel’s Organization of Trade Unions and Environmental Protection minister.