My Word: Rifts after Rabin

We don’t seem to have learned much during the decade and a half since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

Rabin Funeral 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rabin Funeral 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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 half.
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 political camps.
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.
I am 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 alone.
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 peoples.”
There might be a majority but there is no unity.
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 spot.
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.
Actually, I 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.
The delegitimization campaigns abroad (OK, that sounds conspiratorial, but they do seem orchestrated) feed on divisions at home. And vice versa.
A newspaper 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.