Published in The Jerusalem Post on November 1, 1998
In the three years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, not much has changed. Our society has grown neither more tolerant, nor less violent or more politically mature as a result of the infamous, cataclysmic murder and everything that took place in its aftermath. The basic fault-lines in Israeli politics haven’t budged a bit, either.
We all thought differently. Political scientists told us that calamitous events of such high drama inevitably shock the political system, much like an earthquake, shaking everything up. Politicians and community leaders across the ideological spectrum spoke of transformation, of how they were going to do things differently, behave better, speak in a more refined matter, search for consensus, and so on. The public square was to undergo a metamorphosis.
Well, poppycock. In all these spheres, Israeli society is more or less where it left off three years ago: divided by hatreds, driven by revenge, manipulated by duplicitous politicians, threatened by extremists. Politics as usual.
Radical forces on the religious right are once again revving-up the anti-Oslo protest movement. And yes, this week we heard the ‘traitor’ epithet irresponsibly hurled into the simmering street, along with gory posters depicting Bibi and Arafat shaking each other’s bloody hands. Some settler leaders, themselves opposed to the accord but advocates of responsible behavior, received death threats from extremists. We’re moving into dangerous territory.
Yeshiva high schools almost mechanically took to the streets to protest the agreement as Bibi returned home, and I ask: what happened to the much-heralded education towards complexity and moderation of the past three years? Does every kid with a *kippa seruga* automatically have to be to the far right of the right-wing? Are Religious Zionist youth getting to hear other perspectives in their schools, as well? Generally, they are not, and thus little has changed.
We were supposed to be so stunned by the assassination that another such act would be unthinkable. Yet, the security services think that a hit on government leaders is so real a possibility that they find it necessary to seal off every intersection on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, or hire a helicopter, to move the Prime Minister cross-country. Violence has become a normative part of our political culture that needs to be addressed every single day; it is not — as we all hoped — just an absurd, one-time nightmare. So you tell me, have we changed for the better?
Since the assassination, the political Left has been frantically busy blaming the Right and the religious for all ills of Israeli society and for all the dangers we face in the Middle East, moving ever farther off into Meretz territory. This has been accompanied by an intensified pace of secularization, an accelerated abandonment of Israeli classical icons, and a precipitous step up in the language of delegitimization against the adversaries of ‘enlightened’ left-wingerism.
Yes indeed, Labor is guilty on this account, which means that it failed to assimilate what it preaches to others about verbal violence. I still don’t think that Peres, Sarid, Baram, Beilin and others understand that peace cannot be made without the ‘other’ half of the country. In this regard too, not much has changed.
In fact, the dynamics of the Oslo process have remained constant, despite the assassin’s bullet. Prime Minister Netanyahu today is implementing what Rabin and Peres started, employing the same mechanisms of breast-beating to mask the fundamental flaws in the accord. We’ve just signed a fourth deal with Arafat (Oslo I, II, Hebron and the “new” Oslo II accord), in exchange for the very same Palestinian commitments made and not honored each time. Little has changed.
Standards of ethics, quality and responsibility in the Israeli media have to be among the lowest in the Western world, something that I fantasized would change. The providing of a ready platform for the antics and remarks of extremists, and the purveying of stereotypes about entire sectors of the public — remains standard fare, because it makes for good reading. Take for example, Yediot Ahronot’s irresponsible publishing of the new Protocols, I mean the book entitled *The Messiah’s Donkey*. A best seller – what could be better?
How about religious-secular relations? Substantial progress has been marked here, with all the dialogue and joint study groups underway in every community, right? So I thought too, until, sadly, I saw the gleeful reception given to Sefi Rachilevsky’s rabid anti-religious book. We are talking about an unschooled, defamatory piece of trash which calls for war by the secular against the religious public – warmongering that was welcomed with enthusiasm and excitement by some of the same secular leaders who have participated in the much-ballyhooed religious-secular dialogue groups!
No, I’m afraid that since that woeful day three years ago not too much has changed for the better in the grand political scheme of things. Depressing, isn’t it?