What we still have not learned from the Rabin assassination
by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 10, 2000
The anniversary of the Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination has passed once again. Ha’aretz’s Doron Rosenblum described the fifth annual gathering at Rabin Square as a "a religious ritual devoid of G-d, . . . a ritualistic morality play staged once a year…" Even the secular need their rituals and saints.
CNN estimated the number of those gathered at Rabin Square at 20,000, while organizers claimed 150,000. Crowd estimation, it seems, is not yet a precise science in Israel.
Those present were exhorted to win one for our martyred prime minister who gave his life for peace. And they were treated to hagiography. Leah Rabin assured Israelis from her hospital bed that the events of the past month and a half could never have happened were her husband still alive because of his warm relationship with Yasser Arafat.
Then addressing Arafat directly, she begged him to recall his closeness with "Yitzchak’’ and complete the work of peace they began together. Arafat was reportedly deeply touched and vowed to continue his jihad for peace.
The truth is that no one knows what path Yitzchak Rabin would have followed had he lived. He was initially skeptical and hesitant about the Oslo process, and might not have allowed himself to become wedded to the process, come what may, in the same way Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak have.
Nor is it clear that his memory has been well-served by the linkage to Oslo. As Dan Meridor, the respected centrist MK, pointed out this week, "The left-wing has . . . glued together the killing, for which he was almost deified, and the legacy of his policy. But if Rabin was Oslo and Oslo was a disaster, was Rabin a disaster?’’
The commemoration, of course, is less about Rabin the flesh and blood man than about the symbol and what can be learned from the assassination. The assassination proves the degree to which democracy depends upon tolerance for opposing ideas and a certain humility concerning one’s own. (Another lesson might be the danger of governments making life and death decisions without first achieving the most minimal national consensus.)
Even at the level of civics lessons, however, the commemoration ceremonies do not seem to be working. Among schoolchildren – the chief targets of those ceremonies – rates of violence continue to climb alarmingly.
Nor has our political discourse become more refined. The same tendency to delegitimize opposing opinions still prevails. On this score, our slain prime minister was himself too frequently guilty. By proclaiming himself the prime minister of "98% of Israelis’’ and telling political opponents that they could "spin like propellors,’’ he infuriated those opponents to a degree Peres and Barak have not, despite being far more left-wing than Rabin.
The suspension this week of a Haifa teacher who circulated a letter against the continued teaching of the "Rabin legacy,’’ suggests that those charged with inculcating the lessons of the assassination in our young have themselves failed to absorb the message.
The letter’s author unambiguously condemned the Rabin assassination, but nevertheless protested against the appropriation of the assassination to advance a particular political agenda. Even in Rabin’s lifetime, Oslo never commanded the support of more than half the public. And at the time of his murder, Mr. Rabin trailed Binyamin Netanyahu in the polls. Certainly the past month and a half has done little to make more credible the assumptions about Palestinian intentions upon which Oslo was predicated. However tragic, Mr. Rabin’s assassination cannot retroactively validate Oslo, any more than teenage Palestinian "martyrs’’ today prove the truth of their cause.
Besides being used as an argument for the Oslo process, the commemoration ceremonies have also been used to delegitimize those opposed to Oslo, chief among them national religious Jews. Last year, for instance, Tel Aviv erected a statue to Rabin’s memory whose inscription pointedly noted that his assassin was a "kippah-wearing Jew.’’ One cannot help but suspect that the unbelievable spectacle of Channel 2 providing assassin Yigal Amir with a soapbox this week to spew forth his loathesome views was designed precisely to remind the public what kind of person murdered killed Rabin.
The refusal of Education Minister director-general Shlomit Amichai, a Meretz appointee, to acknowledge a teacher’s right to express his opinions on the sacralization of the "Rabin legacy’’ typifies the low regard of many on the Left for the free marketplace of ideas. Absolutely convinced of the righteousness of their cause, they feel duty bound to use all the power at their disposal to indoctrinate their more benighted fellow citizens. Yet an Education Ministry that views political indoctrination as a legitimate tool for training future citizens and devalues freedom of speech and thought is ill-suited to teach our children the meaning of democracy.
Of late, such well-known liberals and moderates as Professor Ruth Gavison and Moshe Landau, former President of the Supreme Court, have warned of attempts by the secular elites to impose a hegemony of ideas through the media and the courts. The perception by very large segments of the population that public debate is monopolized by one side of the political spectrum creates roiling anger among those who feel shut out. That anger itself poses grave danger for democracy.
Yigal Amir’s contempt for democracy led him to murder Yitzchak Rabin. A similar contempt for democracy by those at the opposite end of the political spectrum continues to tear the country apart.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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