More than at any other time, the past 17 years of Israel’s existence have been characterized by conflict, desperation, violence and a widening socio-economic gap. Behind all of these phenomena is a process set in motion by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, currently gaining momentum as the memory of those three gunshots is fading away.
One might argue that as terrible as the assassination might have been, it cannot be the cause of all that has gone wrong in Israel since. That is obviously true. But I will try to show that the assassination has struck a focal point that might prove crucial in Israeli and Jewish history.
Rabin’s assassination was preceded by violent incitement unprecedented in Israel in scope and public exposure. Demonstrations portraying Rabin as a Nazi officer or displaying a coffin bearing Rabin’s name were attended not only by extremists on the bizarre fringe of the religious right-wing but also by mainstream leaders.
Similar actions were never previously seen in Israel, but have been directed since at almost any leader who even considered a land-for-peace solution. Israeli society, it seems, has not learned its lesson.
In the years following the three gunshots that changed the course of a nation, the citizens of Israel have indeed learned at least one thing: that a gun is sometimes stronger than the will of the people. Consequently, they have lost faith in the political process. As our collective memory of Yitzhak Rabin grows dimmer, few can even imagine a different reality. This despair has become a breeding ground for racist and proto-fascist phenomena and, as I see it, was in fact the real goal of the leaders who created the public atmosphere leading up to the murder.
It is hard to believe that a nation could forget the murder of its elected leader. Let’s examine the meaning of this forgetfulness through asking what would be the meaning of a true commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin and his assassination in Israel today.
A couple of months ago, a mob of some 40 Jewish teenagers beat half to death a young Israeli Arab for no reason other than hatred. This was one of dozens of such cases in Jerusalem and elsewhere around the country over the last few years. Would such incidents occur if the Israeli public remembered that through simple egalitarian legislation Rabin’s second government was able to overcome old resentments to a point that most of the Arab-Israeli population could truly feel part of Israeli society?
Also this summer, Israeli Knesset members took part in hate-demonstrations aimed at African immigrants and refugees. During these demonstrations they referred to the foreigners as “a cancer in our nation’s body.” Acts of mob violence followed soon after to the feigned surprise of those who incited the violence, apparently unable to imagine that their words would turn to actions by their supporters. Sound familiar?
In 2009, the pseudo-Jewish essay, “Torat Hamelech” (The King’s Torah) was published. Sanctioning the killing of gentiles (Arab ones, naturally), this book is one of the most racist publications ever printed in Israel. Its widespread distribution in such turbulent times amounts to mass incitement for murder. Attempts by the police to question or arrest the authors were met with violent protest and they were subsequently released. When extremists will act according to this book, and they will, they will say that as far as they see it, Israeli-Jewish society accepts the opinions expressed in the book as legitimate. They will be right. The writing, once again, is on the wall.
In the case of “price-tag” Jewish terror, the phrase “the writing was on the wall” sounds almost like a joke. Groups of Jewish youngsters terrorize West Bank Palestinian villages with graffitied death threats and the arson of Mosques and homes. Their aim is to hammer the final nail in the coffin holding the fading memory of possible peace and co-existence.
The Jewish people is famous for its excellent memory, which should have, in this case, made us all act. The silence with which we confront these internal threats to the Jewish-Democratic state prove that we have chosen to forget the fault line marked with vicious clarity by Rabin’s assassination.
Two roads diverged on November 4th 1995 – one leading from forgetfulness to despair and on to racism and violence, the other beginning with clear and honest self-criticism and self-correction, and leading through vivid memory to a chance of a better future for this country. It’s time we all took the second road.
The Dror Israel movement and its youth movement NOAL [The Federation of Working and Studying Youth] have taken it upon themselves to spearhead remembering the harsh lessons that Rabin’s assassination taught us. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and adults have been urged to remember and act through youth movement activities, classroom debates, and annual memorial tents set up around the country.
Our messages – a possible better future for the State of Israel and refusal to forget the murder or forgive those who incited and supported it (and who have not repented) have not fallen on deaf ears. Nevertheless, the central annual gathering to commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin has not been potent enough. Focusing on Rabin himself and his particular political path, though important, has concealed the true lessons that should be learned, about democracy and it’s fragility, while also alienating many from the memory altogether.
This year, a coalition of movements and organizations, has taken upon itself the task of organizing the central memorial rally. We hope that this year’s rally, along with our ever-widening educational enterprise, will help change the road our society has been walking for the past 17 years.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post and appears here with permission of the author.
The writer is a senior coordinator in the NOAL youth movement and a member of Educators Kibbutz of the Dror Israel movement.
Donations for the rally can be made by going to this link, under Designated Donation please note Rabin Rally.