Remembering Yitzhak Rabin

Personal stories, lessons learned and a look at a way forward on this 15th anniversary of his assassination.

yitzhak rabin official 248 88 (photo credit: )
yitzhak rabin official 248 88
(photo credit: )
Let’s go back to November 3
Ten months ago, when I became a member of Knesset on behalf of the Labor Party, I attended my first meeting of the Labor faction. The first thing I noticed upon entering the conference room was the extremely large, ornate and gaudily framed painting of Yitzhak Rabin.
The painting dominated the room and towered above the seats of the party and faction chairs. In the corner, far less dominant, was a smaller, basic black-andwhite photo, with a simple aluminum frame, of David Ben-Gurion.
To me, this encapsulated the story of the party’s decline since the assassination of Rabin. Both were great and bold leaders of the party, but they have come to symbolize very different things. Ben-Gurion has come to be defined by what he has done. Rabin, assassinated, has come to be defined by what he could have done. Between those two poles, we have wallowed in what could have been, mourning the disappearance of a bright future that was violently wrested from our hands. We have left behind the boldness of action and vision that marked Israel’s and the Labor Party’s can-do spirit.
The organizers of the annual gathering in Kikar Rabin are considering making this year’s gathering the last. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
It might be exactly what we need to leave behind 15 years of mourning, and return to the day before, to November 3, 1995, when we passionately believed in our ability to shape a future for Israel, and in our duty to do so.
– Dr. Einat Wilf is a Labor MK.
We yearn for a leadership like his
The echoes from the shots fired at the close of the assembly ironically called “Stop the Violence” rang in my ears for a long time. In the weeks before the rally, many suggestions were made as to what to call it. Yitzhak Rabin was the one who insisted on “Stop the Violence,” perhaps as if he felt what was about to come.
In 1995, I was a young MK, serving my first term in the legislative body.
Back then, there were “camps” within the Labor Party and I belonged to the one led by Shimon Peres. But the daily work involved was more powerful than any “camp” ties, and one couldn’t help but admire and even love the man, Yitzhak Rabin.
There was something very captivating about him, something in his shyness and in his frankness – for good reason. Even those who strongly disagreed with him admired him. He meant what he said and he said what he meant. His words did not need deciphering and his facial expressions were very clear.
Fifteen years after his death, all that is left is a yearning. A yearning for the man, for a leadership that sets goals and acts to achieve them.
A leadership that works for change, not just its own survival. That is the legacy of Rabin, not just “peace,” a beautiful word that everyone seeks, but the ability to lead, to improve, to hang onto the wheel of this ship called the State of Israel and guide it.
He believed in his own leadership, but his will to lead us to safer waters was tragically cut short.
– Dalia Itzik is chairwoman of the Kadima Knesset faction.
Honesty, accountability and courage
I met Yitzhak Rabin during his first term as prime minister. I was lucky, as in that period he served as my reference for university studies at Harvard. Years later, in 1984, he came back into political life in the Defense Ministry, after some time on the outside. As defense minister, he was sure that the path to the prime minister’s office was paved, but he had many difficult years ahead of him yet.
The Rabin I knew was a complicated man. Ambitious but modest, frank and honest but shy, a man of great vision but pedantic and meticulous.
Working with him was not easy. He worked long hours, exhausting himself and those around him, demanding, of course, high standards and setting the bar very high. I remember vividly three things: First, his honesty. Politicians don’t excel at telling the truth, but he was an exception. It was the reason he was ousted from office during his first term, but it was also his mark.
“We do not lie,” he told me when I first started working with him.
And that’s how it was.
Second, his accountability and responsibility. Rabin knew that if something happened in the offices subject to him, in the security establishment, in the IDF, in the Defense Ministry, he would take responsibility. He didn’t try to blur the lines between the IDF and the political echelon. He knew full well that his position at the top of the pyramid was a commitment. I especially remember how he took upon himself, in a dramatic TV broadcast, the failures involved in rescuing Nachshon Wachsman. No excuses, no explanations for or against. Just “I’m responsible and I take responsibility.”
Third, his courage, as an army man and as a politician. Rabin knew how to handle and overcome the most difficult and important moments and to see the bigger picture. He didn’t have doubts because he knew the way. That is how leadership is assessed and Rabin is remembered, above all, as a leader. I miss Rabin very much and feel his absence deeply.
– Dr. Nachman Shai is a Kadima MK and a former IDF spokesman.
An affront to his memory
The murder of Yitzhak Rabin is a scar that will forever plague our nation and is an event that we cannot ever forget. The question therefore must always be what lessons can emerge from this immense tragedy that will better us as a people and a nation. I am confident that despite his many accomplishments as a military and political leader and despite how strongly committed he was to reaching a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, Rabin would join in our national dismay at how miserably the Oslo process has failed.
And while one should never speak for the deceased, it is quite apparent that his notion of a peace agreement is very different from what is being spoken of today.
The greatest proof of this is in his last speech to the Knesset, where he stated that Jerusalem would never be divided. The notion of ever giving up on these lands that he fought so hard for serves as an affront to his memory.
As committed as Rabin was to find a solution to this bitter conflict, we therefore owe it to his legacy that we never allow any issue, no matter how critical, to tear our nation apart and we must avoid the mistakes of the past.
Israel must remain a nation and a society that is both united in its vision for the future and united in support of its ideals and institutions – for that is the greatest testament to Rabin the man, and Rabin the leader.
– Danny Dayan is chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
On that tragic night
Yitzhak was determined to find ways to advance peace, even as he knew the difficulties and threats from within and without.
The difficulties were not theoretical. He stood before many doubts at home and abroad. He never tried to sugarcoat challenging moments and never shied away from them. He did not delude himself, nor his country. He knew that going on this new path involved serious threats but also big possibilities.
Yitzhak and I knew each other for 50 years. We had our share of disagreements, some of them in public. But we also shared a concealed admiration for each other.
He told me that it was as if we were born with a predetermined division of labor – that it was his duty to apply pressure and that it was my duty to build pressure.
I remember our first handshake. I will never forget the last moments in our exceptional relationship before the events of that tragic day, the last in which we saw each other.
The assembly in Tel Aviv was supposed to gauge support for the peace camp. There were misgivings. Yitzhak himself felt the waves of hatred and incitement against him. Pictures of him donning a keffiyeh were circulating all over the country. Even during an innocent visit to the Weizmann Institute, he encountered a booing crowd and the event almost ended in physical violence.
This happened to a man who was a patriot, a man of confidence, a man of peace, a man dedicated to his people. A leader who made difficult decisions even as he knew that an incomplete peace was better than none.
On the night of the assembly, we decided that we would step out and take our leave together. It was a declaration of true unity in the face of growing violence.
After we stepped onto the balcony overlooking the square, we could not believe our eyes.
Tens of thousands of youths were chanting “Rabin, Rabin.” Some jumped into the fountain, splashing around and chanting.
Yitzhak was surprised by the excitement, by the fantastic spontaneaity.
It was a wave of love from the people. We all got swept up in it.
For the first time, we heard him sing. For the first time, I felt a friendly, heart-warming hug. It seemed that peace was alive and kicking.
Before the end of the assembly, the security men asked us to step down separately. They told us that they received intelligence that jihad men would make an attempt on our lives.
I made my exit first. Yitzhak’s car was parked in front of mine. I turned my head and saw him making his way down the steps. As I got into my car, I heard some voices but could not make it out. Before I knew what was happening, the security men pushed me in, and drove off at high speed. I asked them what had happened. Where was Yitzhak? They did not answer.
In a matter of moments they told me that Yitzhak was on his way to the hospital. I told them to turn around immediately and drive there. They refused. I said I would get out and walk there myself. They relented.
At the hospital, there was a stillness, an anxious silence, and endless worry. Eyes teared. Lips mouthed prayers. The hospital director approached me and whispered in my ear: “I’m sorry. Yitzhak is gone.”
I went to Leah and gave her the terrible news. She and I walked together into the room where Yitzhak lay on the bed. His body was covered but on his face was a peaceful expression, one I’d never seen before.
I kissed him goodbye. Leah stayed with him.
I was shocked and broken. Everyone’s faces fell, some burst into tears.
People started gathering outside the hospital. Thousands of candles were lit, tears falling into the flames. This nation felt as if it had lost a father.
Yitzhak was a boy who dreamed of becoming a marine engineer, a youth who became the youngest commander in the Palmah and who grew up to be a daring leader who guided his people toward peace.
The tears have not dried. The flames have not been extinguished. His memory is not forgotten. His way is not forgotten.
Peace is our mission.
– Excerpted and edited from the speech President Shimon Peres gave Tuesday night at the President’s Residence.
We are not guilty
It is not easy, as a Knesset representative of the Right, to write this piece marking the memorial day for the late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. At the time, I was head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and we would meet frequently. Our meetings would start off very business-like but would often inevitably slide into arguments, in light of our differing positions and ideologies.
Sadly, as the years pass, my personal recollections of Rabin become divorced from the public memory attached to the man and to the memorial day.
For us on the political Right, the period preceding the memorial day is a time of confusion and internal turmoil. Not due to any sense of collective guilt, as some would like to claim, but in response to that unfounded, malicious collective indictment.
We are forced into defensive positions by the accusing finger of the media, unable to mourn the memory of our prime minister – for even though we disagreed with him, even though we demonstrated against him, we fully recognized his constitutional role.
Recently, once again, just a few days ago, those seeking a retrial for Margalit Har-Shefi were accused of actually supporting the actions of the assassin.
Memorial days are for mourning and for remembering, each with his own thoughts within the context of the national memory. Regretfully, I must write this today, as a representative of a sector: we are not guilty, and any attempt to enforce false collective guilt is a mortal blow against democracy.
Yes, we organized demonstrations against him, and we observed the presence of that despicable small group from which the murderer emerged. We totally opposed their way – the incitement and the hatemongering – and so we warned the Shin Bet, we warned the police, we warned other officials, but they did nothing.
That was our duty then, and sadly, ever since , it has been our duty to mention this again, year after year.
There should also be severe criticism of those who unjustly accuse. The inevitable result of this is sectorial fragmentation of the memorial itself. A significant section of the nation cannot participate in the assembly in Kikar Rabin, without being confronted with accusations from the platform. My hope is that over the coming years, this trend will change so that the Rabin Memorial Day will become, as it should, a day of national unity.
– Uri Ariel is an MK from the National Union Party.
Israel cannot ignore lessons of Rabin’s murder
Ever since Yitzhak Rabin was murdered 15 years ago, even as official Israel and parts of Israeli society have mourned, society has wasted the tragedy by failing to use it as a vehicle for introspection, and repentance.
Countries, religions and political movements need heroes. A tragic hero who died for the cause is even more significant. Rabin, the tragic hero who died for peace, was coopted by the Israeli Left as its representative and is remembered by it as the Rabin who advocated peace and territorial compromise, and as such reflects its political aspirations only. His death has become a tool both to raise a particular political flag and attack its opponents. While Rabin’s death was tragic, it cannot serve as grounds for undermining the legitimacy of his political opponents.
Rabin was killed because a culture of political, moral and religious arrogance allowed some to believe they had a monopoly on love of Israel and commitment to its security. Rabin was killed because members of our society believed their national fervor was more important than the duties of morality. Yigal Amir pulled the trigger; the political and nationalist culture prevalent in society served as the gun.
If we are to transform Rabin’s death into a true national day of memorial, it must be separated from sectarian politics and become a day in which all recommit to the democratic principles at the foundation of our society, a day in which the relationship between Jewish nationalism and statehood is reexplored, and a day in which we recommit to our deepest objectives, as outlined in our Declaration of Independence: to be a society “based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
The lesson of Yitzhak Rabin’s death is that unbridled nationalism and the idolatrous certainty it provokes is something we, too, are capable of and must fear.
Let us mourn our capacity to misuse our love of Israel to undermine the moral depth and greatness of our Zionist aspirations. Let us mourn the capacity of Judaism to be co-opted as a servant for nationalism, instead of as its source for values and moral excellence.
– Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.