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The legacy of Yitzhak Rabin - Ten years after


Commemorating, or perhaps celebrating, the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the settlers' Web site, Arutz-7 coupled Rabin's picture and memorial with that of Rehav'am Ze'evi, and cited a home video that allegedly "proves" that Rabin was not assassinated by right-wing settler advocate Yigal Amir. If that is so, then it is truly a mystery why Yigal Amir's mother and brother appeared on television to explain that since Rabin was a criminal, killing him was not really a crime, and posted a petition for the release of their son.

The settlers say that Yigal Amir didn't kill Rabin, but Amir's family says that he did kill Rabin, and that Rabin deserved it. No realist could expect that a falsehood so improbable as the one woven by the settlers could be told consistently by all parties concerned. Ask any Jew living in Hebron and they will explain that both stories are correct, and that anyone who believes otherwise is a leftist and a traitor. "In the first place he deserved it, and in the second place we didn't kill him in the first place." That sort of illogic and horror is what we might expect from those quarters

All of this can be endured, because it is expected. Professor Yoram Peri writes in Yediot Ahronot that 'the other camp [the right] says, "Rabin's legacy? No such thing." This camp tries hard to erase the memory of the late prime minister." Peri is sadly mistaken.

The right, the left, just about everyone, are gathering like vultures after carrion. Gideon Levy appears to be intent on creating a name for himself by calling Rabin a coward and insisting that he left no legacy. He is joined by Uzi Benziman.

Each prime minister has left some mark on the nation's history. Yet only a handful of researchers, historians, or a few family members examine what might be "the heritage" of Moshe Sharett, Levy Eshkol or Golda Meir. Even David Ben-Gurion's enormous legacy is not nurtured, and the unique contribution of Menachem Begin is not being passed on.

Although institutions to immortalize the values of Ben-Gurion and Begin have been erected, there is only one of each and they are scholarly in nature. This diagnosis is even more valid regarding prime ministers who are still with us: nobody talks of the "heritage" of Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. Shimon Peres is a little different in this respect, having already erected a pantheon for himself in the form of the Peres Center for Peace.

Israeli society's attitude to Yitzhak Rabin is different. Not only has his name been immortalized in some 150 institutions and sites, but instead of dealing with the significance of his murder, most of the attention is dedicated to his "heritage." Evidently, had Rabin passed away naturally, his position in the national Hall of Fame would be on a par with that of the other prime ministers and would have received the place it deserves according to his contribution and mark on the annals of the nation. Since he was murdered, the criteria have been shuffled.

Beware, my fellow countrymen. In Israel, the Benzimans and the Levys do not believe in "de mortuis nihil nisi bonum" -- nothing but good of the dead.The Benzimans and the Levys and their friends are convinced, perhaps, that the are just as good as Rabin, or Ben-Gurion or better, and that if only Rabin had not been killed, and given false acclaim, they would have been given their just honor. You may be the liberator of Jerusalem, and you may risk your life to bring peace. It will not help. After you are dead, the Benzimans and the Levys will peck at your memory. They will insist that you are a coward because you didn't do enough. They will insist that your life and contribution amount to no more than that of Yitzhak Shamir who distributed worthless Senior Citizens cards in order to win an election.

Perhaps Rabin's legacy was not so obvious before, but after the disengagement it is certainly clear. For the benefit of the Benzimans and the Levys and of those who really do not understand, Ehud Ohlmert, a right-wing politician who voted against the Oslo Accords, explained what Rabin's contribution was, in a way that pehaps even the Uzi Benziman and Gideon Levy could understand.

"From the distance of time and perspective, Yitzhak Rabin's Oslo Agreement brought on a process of disillusionment by the Israel public and the formation of a more realistic, sober and balanced perception of the moves Israel has to make."
"The Oslo agreement had its weaknesses but it was also justified. There is no doubt that it forced Israeli society to self examination that lead to the conclusion that Israel must return to its correct borders and that it should be a Jewish and democratic state," Olmert said.

If Rabin's legacy can win even this half-hearted endorsement from a member of the Likud, it was truly a great legacy, and perhaps it is even worthy of the respect of such great patriots and prophets as Gideon Levy and Uzi Benziman.

It is true that many of us understood that the settlement enterprise has no future long before the Oslo Accords. However, what is understood and what is politically possible are two different things. The majority of Israeli society was carried along by the euphoria of the period following the six day war, the paranoia of the infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution and the rhetoric of Menachem Begin and his colleagues.

The problem was no secret. As Tom Segev discusses in his book, 1967, the unity government of Levy Eshkol understood quite well as the 6-day war began, the problems inherent in ruling a large and hostile population. They also hesitated to conquer Jerusalem out of fear that they would be forced to return it, understanding that no Israeli government could give up the Wailing Wall and stay in power. In time, owing to settler propaganda and political pressure, all of Gaza and the West Bank, including places no Jew had thought about for 2,000 years, became political "Wailing Walls" -- holy cows that could not be touched. The land that was taken as a hostage for peace became populated with settlements that were obstacles to peace. Anyone who talked of removing settlements was branded a traitor.

It is one thing to understand what ought to be done. It is another thing to have the courage to do it. Of those in power, only Rabin had the courage to put up his hand and say "Stop the madness," and the ability to understand how it must be done. True, Rabin probably thought he was risking only his poltiical career. Few imagined that his courageous stand would cost him his life.

Jacques Chirac is a statesman, and therefore he perhaps, is in a better position to understand the nature of Rabin's legacy then the Benzimans and the Levys. He wrote:

...Rabin understood, before others, that it was possible to speak to his neighbors with respect while at the same time maintaining Israel's security. He proved this to the Palestinian people and to the Jordanian Kingdom, and he paid for it with his life.

The legacy of Rabin however, lies not in this or that narrow political act. Rather, the legacy lies in the thought that guided the acts, a way of thinking that is as yet be alien to Ehud Ohlmert.

Ohlmert also said that:

... Rabin took action so that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount would remain in Israeli hands under any diplomatic circumstance, and would have continued to do so had he been alive today.

Perhaps that is so, but Rabin was interested primarily in securing Israel, not this or that rock in Jerusalem. The main stated foreign policy goal of the state of Israel, however, poorly it was implemented in practice, was, until the rise of the Likud in 1977, to secure peace -- not peace with one country, but peace with all the countries of the Middle East. When in power, the Labor party frequently talked of peace and prepared for war, whild the Likud talked of war and prepared for annexation. When the Labor party returned to power in 1992, Rabin undertook to return Israel to the original policy and the original national priorities, and to implement the policy rather than leaving it to reside in the realm of homilies for schoolchildren. Levy Eshkol, Abba Ebban, Golda Meir, Begin and Shamir, had all announced day and night that no nation wants peace more than the Jewish people. Meir turned down a chance for peace with Sadat. Begin accepted the peace with Sadat in order to safeguard, so he thought, real estate in the West Bank. Only Rabin was willing to pay more than lip service to peace. Rabin's actions were based on the premise of classical Zionism, beginning in the 1920s, that Zionism is first and foremost about the Jewish people, about the reality of constructing a state and a nation, not about real estate and holy places.

This understanding has penetrated but slowly into the Revisionist movement, which not long ago was still claiming the East Bank of the Jordan, which has so lately split because of the abandonment of the "holy" Gaza strip, and which is intent on holding on to the West Bank.

When we have implemented the logical conclusions of Rabin's legacy, we shall again be on the high road to securing the Jewish state and building a future for the Jewish people.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000403.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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