| The Rose Report |

Israel Still Scarred by Rabin Assassination

Netanyahu didn't kill Rabin, but the Left still blames him

Twenty-six years have transpired since Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin following a Tel Aviv rally in support of the Oslo Accords. The unresolved repercussions of both Rabin’s death and Oslo echo through Israel’s body politic to this very day.

The political wounds of that era are still raw and open, as evidenced by last week’s stormy Knesset session. The annual Knesset ritual memorializing Rabin never takes stock of the man himself, the ill-fated Oslo process, or how Rabin manipulated Israeli democracy to win approval of the accords. It’s been twisted into an occasion to vilify an entire sector for the act of a lone gunman who wore the kippah they do.

This year was no exception. Yair Lapid unfairly branded today’s leaders of the Religious Zionist party as the “ideological heirs” of the assassin. It was an absurd attempt to delegitimize a party that won six Knesset seats, considering that Lapid serves in a government whose prime minister wheedled his way to the top with just seven seats.

As is customary, the Knesset session made former prime minister Netanyahu into a whipping boy. Netanyahu was Likud chairman and opposition leader when Rabin was prime minister. Each year, the left raises the same accusations blaming Netanyahu’s fiery, anti-Oslo rhetoric for the climate of incitement that led to Rabin’s death. This year, they also excoriated Bibi for skipping a gravesite memorial for Rabin at Mount Herzl.

This time, Bibi lashed back. When he was prime minister, he would grit his teeth in silence. No longer under coercion to play along, he condemned the hypocrisy of the left. Netanyahu noted the left defines whatever they happen to say as legitimate freedom of speech, but when the right uses similar terminology, the left pillories them as purveyors of vulgarity and hate speech.

To his credit, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tried to douse the flames. He noted that it was the incitement against the religious community following the Rabin assassination that induced him to begin wearing a kippah. Bennett called for a halt to the incitement against the religious right.

“I hope we learned that we cannot malign an entire community if one of its members committed a crime,” Bennett said. “It wasn’t the right or the religious who murdered Rabin. Yigal Amir murdered him.”


Emotions Inflamed

Political assassinations never fade from the history books, especially when it involves the nation’s highest official. Americans age 65 and up still remember where they were when they heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. The assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand goes down in history as the shot that ignited World War I.

In that vein, it’s not problematic for the Knesset to remember Rabin. What is troublesome is when inflammatory political rhetoric obscures more important lessons to be learned, or when the discourse is continually marred by blaming the wrong people, or limited to what’s deemed to be politically correct.

In the aftermath of the assassination, the left tried to conflate criticism of the Oslo Accords with incitement against Rabin, leaving no opportunity to question a deal that had clearly backfired on Israel.

Rabin supporters were devastated by his death, but blindly stuck to the Oslo course. For them, Oslo heralded the dawn of the New Middle East, in which Israel would become as wealthy as Luxembourg and as safe as Switzerland. Misplaced optimism aside, they cynically used the assassination to promote their cause, posting signs prominently on highways and public buildings with imposing pictures of Rabin, saying, “Even in his death, he commanded us to make peace.”

Rabin detractors felt relief, not pain, and that’s putting it mildly. Even those repulsed by the assassination quietly hoped that Rabin’s demise would spell the end of the Oslo process, under which Israel traded portions of its biblical heartland for an imaginary peace, and armed a Palestinian militia with weapons the Rabin government gave them, which they eventually trained on Israeli soldiers and citizens.


Rabin’s Playbook

Another lesson that’s lost in all the static is the eerie similarity in the way that Rabin rammed the Oslo Accords through the Knesset to the way in which Naftali Bennett became prime minister.

Although Rabin originally formed a 62-member coalition after the June 1992 election with Labor, Shas, and Meretz, Shas left in September 1993 to protest demands that two of its ministers — accused of financial misconduct — step down.

Lacking a majority to pass Oslo, Rabin lured away two members of a small, breakaway right-wing party, by offering one, Gonen Segev, a ministry, and the other, Alex Goldfarb, a deputy ministry — which came with a Mitsubishi, which even in the early 1990s was far from a luxury vehicle.

The political right was outraged, but Oslo was a done deal after Rabin had obtained a majority. Neither Segev or Goldfarb ever lived down their perfidy. Segev is currently serving an 11-year prison term for spying for Iran. Goldfarb has long since left politics, but he will go down in infamy as the man who sacrificed his ideals for a Mitsubishi.

Israel has a long history of politicians who run on the right, and after winning office, run from the right.

Rabin himself could never be confused with being right-wing, but Israelis elected him prime minister thanks to the tough-guy image he earned as IDF chief of staff. Binyamin Netanyahu also talked a good game, but within five weeks of becoming prime minister in May 1996, he caved to President Clinton and agreed to continue implementing Oslo. Later, he ceded parts of Chevron to the PA.

Ariel Sharon, the military hero of the Yom Kippur War, who once told hilltop youth to grab every empty piece of land in Judea and Samaria before the Arabs could, was the architect of the Gaza disengagement, giving away the thriving agricultural settlements of Gush Katif and expelling 8,000 Jews from their home. As mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert touted Jewish presence in the Old City as proof that Arabs and Jews could peacefully live side by side. As prime minister, on the 12th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, Olmert announced he would lead an Israeli delegation to peace talks sponsored by the Bush administration in Annapolis, while declaring there was no alternative to the two-state solution.

Despite his words of reconciliation at the Knesset, Naftali Bennett seems to be cut from the same cloth as his predecessors. He too ran on the right and now runs from it. It’s a time-honored formula in Israel. Bennett, like Rabin, also formed a coalition with an odd mix of ideological partners.

The obvious lesson here is that we citizens place far too much trust in politicians and invest too much passion into our politics. Assassinations don’t necessarily result in policy change. Cheering for politicians, rooting for them, posting for them, contributing to their campaigns, or voting for them doesn’t mean we will get what we see. Once they assume power, they can change their stripes — and do so with ease.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 883)

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