Analysis: The Left and Rabin's legacy

Once, it seemed as if Israelis were slowly but surely embracing the Left.

rabin shake 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
rabin shake 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Perhaps the most amazing thing about author David Grossman's keynote speech at the Tel Aviv memorial rally marking the 11th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination was that he barely mentioned Rabin - only once at the start and once more, shortly in passing, towards the middle. If Grossman hadn't been afraid of offending the Rabin family standing around him, he would have cried out to the assembled minions of Israel's dwindling left-wing: "Stop talking about Rabin's so-called legacy. All our dreams are drowning in the sea!"
  • Politics haunt Rabin memorial It's not as if Grossman was ever such a great fan of the murdered prime minister. His seminal book The Yellow Wind, an attack on Israel's policy towards the Palestinians, appeared in 1987, when Rabin was defense minister, in charge of implementing that policy. Grossman's politics were always well to the left of Rabin, and like so many of his like-minded colleagues, managed to embrace him only after his assassination. And even that doesn't seem to have lasted long. This year's rally was termed "non-political" by the Rabin family. As usual in Israel, non-political might mean that professional politicians aren't allowed to talk and no specific party is mentioned. But that doesn't mean politics are left out of it. And here, once again, Grossman was damning Rabin's legacy. When he attacked Israel's current leaders, saying, "In these days there is no king in Israel. Our leadership is hollow," he was standing close to two of those hollow leaders, both heirs to Rabin's legacy - Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the chairman of Rabin's Labor Party, and Rabin's partner in Oslo, Deputy Premier Shimon Peres, number two in Kadima, today's ruling party. He might also have mentioned that Rabin's daughter, Dalia, had gone on to become a deputy defense minister in Ariel Sharon's first government, and that his son, Yuval, on the eve of the last election said he would be voting Kadima, since in his opinion the party embodied his father's ideals. And when, in his non-political speech, Grossman described Avigdor Lieberman's joining the government as "a rude kick to democracy" and "appointing a pyromaniac to head the Fire and Rescue Services," he might have been thinking about the large portrait of Rabin that was placed on the platform of Labor's central committee last week. The portrait was facing the committee members when they unanimously voted to stay in the government with Lieberman. There was much in Grossman's words easily acceptable to both the right and left sides of the political divide. This was especially the case regarding his bitter criticism of the "panicked, suspicious, sweaty" style of government, and his accusation against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for never taking the initiative. But Grossman was playing only to his home crowd. His quiet and measured speech was a desperate attempt to connect the small and beleaguered Israeli left-wing. Just as he urged Olmert to speak with the Palestinians "over the heads of Hamas," Grossman tried to speak with the leftists over the heads of the Rabin family, over the heads of Peres and the Labor leadership. It's hard to describe the depths of despair being experienced these days by real ideological left-wingers in Israel. A year after voting for the most left-wing leader in its history, Peretz is now a disgraced warlord and Labor is a willing coalition partner with Lieberman. Meretz is a fractious mini-party on the brink of extinction, and opinion polls show a significant rightward shift among the public, now at its least receptive to new peace proposals. The Israeli Left has had to deal with two traumas over the last decade: Rabin's assassination and the failure of the Oslo process. Though he was never their dream prince and the Oslo Accords Rabin signed with Yasser Arafat weren't enough for them, it seemed as if a growing majority of Israelis were slowly but surely coming around to their way of seeing things. But Rabin's and 2,000 other Israelis' deaths followed and the nation went the other way. Grossman also lost a family member. His son Uri, a tankist, was killed in the Lebanon war. But if the rally's organizers had hoped that bereavement would have mellowed the fiery writer and spurred him to issue a message of reconciliation, they were dead wrong. Grossman was trying to move his camp back to its old positions. Forget Rabin, he was telling his spellbound listeners, he was a latecomer to the cause, had no clear legacy and his heirs are not worthy of your allegiance. For people like Grossman, Rabin has become a meaningless icon of the mainstream, a figure of nostalgia, devoid of any real ideology. The Left is now on its own.