Think About It: Twenty years on

I dislike the term “Rabin’s heritage,” though I believe that Rabin’s assassination in itself has certainly turned into part of the Israeli heritage.

Yitzhak Rabin in 1985, then defense minister (photo credit: DAVID BRAUNER)
Yitzhak Rabin in 1985, then defense minister
(photo credit: DAVID BRAUNER)
I heard about Rabin’s assassination on November 4, 1995, on my way to the offices of The Jerusalem Post to deliver my weekly article (on a floppy disk).
I immediately made a U-turn and returned home to rewrite my article in a flurry of emotions. There had been a lot of incitement against Rabin at the time, but no one was prepared for what happened except the assassin himself.
I do not recall Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was leader of the Opposition at the time, ever calling Rabin a traitor, but he certainly did not admonish those who did, and during the infamous demonstration at Jerusalem’s Zion Square on October 5, 1993, when he stood on the balcony with the rest of the Likud leadership, he failed to call on the fiery crowd below to remove posters showing Rabin in an SS uniform.
Netanyahu hasn’t changed. I was expecting to hear him admonish the mob that lynched the hapless Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum, and warn the bearers of arms to remember that the act of “neutralizing” a terrorist with a knife in his/her hand must cease the moment he/she are on the ground – but zilch. Such an admonition would not go down well with Likud voters.
Instead he simply added to the incitement by accusing the Palestinians of responsibility for the Holocaust.
In doing so he was either demonstrating ignorance of history, or cold cynicism. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was certainly a despicable character and a fan of the Nazis, but his political clout was limited, and his main achievement was to cause irreversible harm to his own people and prevent their getting a state of their own in 1948 – all to Israel’s benefit.
“Yitzhak Rabin was a leader who strove for peace, and also attained a peace agreement with Jordan.
He combined modesty, decency and leadership. He combined discretion, practicality and purposefulness.
These qualities are important and impressive. But on their own they do not describe the secret of his charm.
Above all, he was an Israeli patriot. On the main issues Rabin took decisions in which he believed, which he considered to be vital for the future of the State....”
Who said these words? Believe it or not, it was Prime Minister Netanyahu, on October 29, 2009, on the commemoration in the Knesset of the 14th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. So besides the Netanyahu who is either an ignoramus and/or a crass cynic, there is another, decent Netanyahu hiding somewhere.
Since I couldn’t find the full minutes of Netanyahu’s speech on the Knesset website, I do not know whether he added a “but” to his words. If he did, this would have been perfectly legitimate. I do not agree that Rabin made a mistake with regard to the Oslo Accords, but others may certainly believe otherwise. He might have been right and he might have been wrong, but he certainly was no traitor, and did not deserve to be assassinated.
WE DO not know whether if Yigal Amir’s bullets had missed Rabin, or if Rabin had agreed to wear a bulletproof vest (he was an incurable optimist), he would have been reelected in 1996, or whether Netanyahu would have beaten him. Rabin was more electable than Peres, and might have won – or not. But that is how the issue of whether the Oslo Accords should be thwarted or allowed to proceed should have been decided – at the ballot box.
Certainly the question of whether the Oslo Accords were the correct path to a settlement or a dangerous delusion could not have been determined two years after their signature, which is when Rabin was assassinated.
The fact that Netanyahu, who was vehemently opposed to Oslo, was elected as prime minister in 1996 and didn’t pursue his predecessor’s policy, certainly not in spirit but also not in letter, didn’t add to the chances of Oslo succeeding.
Here I must disagree with the Post’s Caroline Glick, who claims that when Rabin was assassinated he was well on his way to changing his position regarding the Oslo Accords. Rabin was honest enough to admit mistakes when he made them, and had Amir’s bullets not put an end to his life he might later on have changed his mind – but perhaps not, if the facts did not justify such a conclusion.
I dislike the term “Rabin’s heritage,” though I believe that Rabin’s assassination in itself has certainly turned into part of the Israeli heritage, insofar as until November 4, 1995, no one believed such an assassination was possible in Israel.
I would rather speak of what Rabin represented, in terms of policy and style.
Rabin believed that Palestinian violence should be confronted with an iron fist. One of his most misunderstood statements in contextual terms during the first intifada, when he was defense minister, was that “we should break their bones.” The Left was shocked, but the context was the doctrine of the Jewish defense forces from pre-state days that in confrontations with the Arabs it was preferable to maim than kill, since killing invariably led to endless blood feud.
At the same time the intifada convinced Rabin that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had a solution, it was not a military one. So for Rabin, violence had to be confronted with force, but other means had to be used to attempt to resolve the conflict. That, incidentally, is still the approach of the Left and Center in Israel today, unlike the Right, which believes that if force doesn’t work, more force ought to be used.
Rabin also represented the approach that supported a territorial compromise, as long as all the necessary precautions are taken to prevent this compromise turning into a boomerang. That is why he insisted that the settlement with the Palestinians should be reached in stages, and not in a single move. He regarded the alternative to territorial compromise – annexation or permanent occupation of the territories – as constituting a much greater risk to the future of the Zionist endeavor.
Unlike Yigal Allon, under whom he served in the Palmach, Rabin did not have any close Arab friends, but he certainly did not demonize them. Though he would undoubtedly have preferred to get the Oslo Accords approved in the Knesset by a Jewish majority, he did not consider a majority that included the Arab MKs to be illegitimate. In a democracy a majority is a majority, and when Shimon Peres’ ploy to try to oust the Yitzhak Shamir government in March- May 1990 by concocting an imaginary majority failed, Rabin had no problem calling this ploy “the dirty trick.”
As to the settlers, everyone has a recollection of his calling them “propellers.” In fact he used the term to describe those who were demonstrating in July 1993 against the tenth round of negotiations with the Palestinians.
The term “propeller” was a misnomer in that context. “After all, propellers create the thrust which moves vessels through air and over water, and what Rabin wanted to convey was the futility of the activities of the anti-withdrawal lobby to stop the talks,” I wrote at the time. Like Netanyahu Rabin frequently used inappropriate expressions, but his slips of the tongue were naive compared to Netanyahu’s, and spontaneous.
Another difference is that he was free of makeup, and his hair was frequently unkempt. He blushed easily, smoked and drank too much, and played tennis regularly.
He was 72 years old when he was assassinated.
He should have lived much longer. He was our prime minister, and in Israel of 2015 too many people believe that Yigal Amir was right.
The writer is a political scientist and retired Knesset employee.