ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Reflections on Yitzhak Rabin - two weeks late

Reflections on Yitzhak Rabin - two weeks late

14 November 2007

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Now that all the chatter and mutual recriminations have subsided over the yearly memorial assemblies and services in remembrance of assassinated PM Yitzhak Rabin (Nov. 4, 1995), it is certainly time to analyze why Israelis feel “obligated” to suffer through the politically intense late October, early November season.

On the surface there are those Right-Left, Religious-Secular differences which have not receded over the past 12 years. Issues concerning the return of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to Arab control after over 40 years are no less real today than during the heyday of the 1990s Oslo process. The issue of the viability of a two-state solution, the future of Jewish settlement across the 1949 – 67 armistice lines should Israel withdraw, and the recent Gaza Disengagement (2005) all conjure up associative thinking of conflict, whether between Israelis and Palestinians or internally, among Israel’s Jewish population itself.

Rabin’s legacy was hijacked by the Left with the blessings of the Right. Rabin spoke of a Palestinian entity, not state. True he may have been thinking “state” but that word was uttered years later by Likud PM Ariel Sharon. Rabin never advocated returning to the 1967 lines, he wanted a new partition of the West Bank, whereby Israel kept some 35%. Would he have settled for less? Possibly, if it meant real peace.

Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day is now a week. There is the Hebrew date and the secular calendar date along with Saturday night (either in between or close by). From remembering the life work and heritage of Rabin as a soldier in the 1948 War of Independence, chief of army staff in the 1967 Six Day War, architect of the strategic relationship with the US beginning as ambassador from 1968 - 72 to his term as PM (1974 – 77) after the disastrous Yom Kippur War of 1973 to his stints as defense minister in the 1980s and finally his last term as PM from 1992 – 95 where much of Israel’s economy joined the first world of hi-tech and open market economies, the only point recalled about Rabin is his desire for peace. Listening to both the Left and Right, one would think “peace” was Rabin’s only interest whereby all other values would be sacrificed should they stand in the way. What is conveniently forgotten is that it was not peace at all costs, but on condition, in particular where security was concerned. For sure the memory of Yitzhak Rabin is skewered.

More troubling though is that Rabin has become synonymous with the state. Interrupting a “moment of silence” by Betar Jerusalem fans at a soccer match with Maccabee Haifa at the latter’s home stadium with chants of “Rabin is a homo” is not only a political expression by the right wing fans (many of whom know little of politics but behave like hooligans) but an expression of alienation from the mainstream Jewish State. They are following a trend of internal de-legitimization of the state.

The Arab world has viewed Israel as an “illegal entity” for some 60 years and lately the leadership of the Israeli Arab community has joined in, in condemning Jewish nationalism. The ultra-orthodox Haredi world sees no Halachic foundations to the secular Jewish state and considers it a passing phenomenon. The extreme religious right of the settler movement considers the state illegitimate since the Gaza Disengagement of 2005 because in their view the state is only a tool to facilitate and serve Jewish settlement - not the opposite. The equally extreme anarchist Left by definition denies the right of the Jewish State to exist and they do battle as often as possible against the army and police when security barriers are established to halt possible Palestinian terror attacks. The Supreme Court, although considered a bastion of the state entity, is perceived as constantly declaring war against cabinet and Knesset decisions thereby undermining the executive and legislative branches of government.

The last three PMs (from Labor, Likud or Kadima, it does not matter) have been under police and judicial scrutiny for a variety of alleged illegal activities while the previous police commander himself was forced to resign due to suspicion of illegal conduct. And let us not forget the resignation of the IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz after the Second Lebanese War in 2006. On the domestic economic level, those officials who led the customs and tax service are facing indictments for possible influence peddling and kickbacks. State corruption appears endemic.

State ceremonies commemorating Rabin have turned him into the ultimate symbol representing the secular Jewish State apparatus. Today that state is seen by many as ineffective, inefficient, corrupt and not representative of the people. Furthermore Rabin is not being mourned as a slain prime minister but as an assassinated icon peacemaker. His memory has become not only divisive politically but paradoxically a unifying symbol in the negative sense of a state losing a certain amount of legitimacy.

Certainly Rabin does not deserve such an epitaph. We should be learning from his example of commitment to security and peace. Instead Rabin has the duplicitous posthumous role of hero vs. anti-hero, and all for the same reasons. Furthermore, insulting Rabin’s memory as a protest against the Israel of 2007 only obscures the real issues, something we can ill afford.