Published in The Jerusalem Post on November 9, 1997
Something has gone amiss with the Yitzhak Rabin memorial effort. I know this because a quick check among some 40 friends and colleagues of mine revealed that only two or three intend to light Rabin memorial candles this week.
Why? The answer, I think, is that the assassination anniversary sadly is being exploited for transparent political purposes, and as a result serves to further divide the nation, not unify it.
Consider the weekend papers. The tabloids carry lengthy interviews with every possible Rabin family member, which amount to endless laundry lists of all the people and movements they will “never forgive” – Weizman, Netanyahu, the NRP, Bnei Akiva, etc., etc. Dalia Itzik and Asa Kasher are de rigueur panelists on every talk show regarding the anniversary, so that they can remind us of the “cancerous” religious, right-wing “field” from which the assassin “grew”, and demand apologies and declarations of shame.
The supposedly “public-wide” memorial rallies held in Tel Aviv and outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s home have been unabashed left-wing political demonstrations, replete with calls for renewing the Oslo process (“Rabin’s legacy”), dumping Bibi, and any possible form of struggle, tinged with overtones of revenge, against the “forces of darkness” that have “taken over the country”.
Editorials harp on the “insufficient soul-searching” by the political right, and warn us that the “assassination’s significance has not penetrated deep into public consciousness”. What they intend, of course, is that real soul-searching would of necessity lead to support for Oslo and for a Labor Party (or Meretz) return to power. Or, that the precipitous draining of support for Oslo and electorate’s choice of Likud is ipso facto proof that “we’ve learned nothing” from the assassination. To put it differently, you’re either pro-Oslo or pro-Yigal Amir.
No wonder, then, that the candle-lighting campaign isn’t doing well among the right and religious. Rabin’s memory has become a club with which to brow-beat the political opposition (now the government) into guilt and submission. A tool of delegitimization.
How sad. I don’t think that we’ve learned nearly enough from the terrible political murder of two years ago. Just look at the broad return of extremist political rhetoric, marked by hatred and renewed hints of intra-Jewish violence, that has creeped into the language of the left, as well as the right. And there’s more work to be done in warning our youth away from the messianist-fanatic right-wing/religious perversion that made up the assassin’s worldview. Moreover, I want to teach my kids about the Yitzhak Rabin I knew personally – military hero, defense strategist, peace seeker and humble leader. I want to mourn his death.
But doing this together with the political left will be hard, as will lighting “their” memorial candles, if the upshot is an obligatory oath of fealty to left-wing dogma and an assumption of collective blame for the murder.
All the alienating invective and finger-pointing — “we won’t forgive and won’t forget” — is missing the boat and blowing an opportunity. The big story that ought be told on this second anniversary of the assassination, and be reinforced by the telling, is the developing narrative of newfound dialogue and shared values in Israeli society.
Far from the Knesset and Popolitika broadcast studios a populist revolution is blossoming. Thousands of people, in hundreds of organized and private frameworks, religious and secular, are studying Jewish tradition and culture together, yearning with palpable hunger for a new common ground, perhaps even a collective identity. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a phenomenon consequent upon Rabin’s murder and its psychological impact on the public.
Take the “Festival of Jewish Studies” entitled “Hakhel” that took place recently over Succot. Over 5,000 adults from across the political and religious spectrum participated in this eclectic, wonderful feast of lectures and open discussions sponsored, believe it or not, by the United Kibbutz Movement — along with the ‘Tzav Pius’ campaign of the Avi Chai Foundation and two dozen other groups from the Yesha settlements to the Reform. Classes ranged from ‘chassidut and magic’ to ‘Judaism and democracy’, women’s readings of the Bible and the beauty of halacha. I have visited dozens of similar ‘encounter groups’ for secular-religious dialogue, across the country.
This activity carries the great white hope for our fissured society. The grassroots is pulling back from the precipice of civil war – a prospect starkly made evident by the assassination – and seeking mutual understanding. That’s the story on this week of national mourning, if only the axe-grinding politicians would step aside and the sensationalist media could muster some responsibility.
Reconciliation through learning and dialogue. Our virtual candle for Yitzhak Rabin.