By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Professor Avi Shlaim of Oxford is often described as a “revisionist” historian of modern Israel, where he had lived and where he served in its armed forces. In his comprehensive and important book, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, he writes about the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin:
First, he made it clear that the road to peace entailed risks at least as great as those involved in refusing to budge and that a government that was not prepared to run these risks would be failing in its duty (emphasis added). Second, he stated that the move toward peace did not have to begin with direct negotiations between Israel and the Arabs…
Even allowing for the historic breakthrough when Menachem Begin was prime minister that resulted in peace with Egypt, and the efforts allegedly made by both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak when they were heading the government of Israel, Rabin may have been the one who brought Israel closest to thinking peace as a necessity for the survival of Israel. Perhaps that’s why he was assassinated twenty years ago.
Recently, his assassin Yigal Amir, a “pious” and murderous Jewish “patriot,” has gained publicity/notoriety because of a film about him. Though the Jerusalem Film Festival in the end didn’t screen the movie, it was shown in a place nearby, by all accounts to a packed audience, consisting largely of Orthodox Jews originating in the former Soviet Union to which the woman who married him in jail is said to belong.
Yossi Sarid, the former leader of Meretz who also served as Israel’s education minister and who’s a writer and poet of note, referred in his Ha’aretz column last Friday to the screening. He wrote that Rabin died twice: “once when he was murdered and once when he was forgotten.” Yes, there’re roads and squares and institutions named after Yitzchak Rabin but what he wanted to achieve for Israel may indeed be forgotten.
Prime Minister Netanyahu may have sent a peaceful message to Mahmoud Abbass, the president of the Palestinian Authority, at the conclusion of Ramadan, but that doesn’t mean that the two have anything significant to say to each other.
It would be too simplistic to blame only Mr. Netanyahu for that. To the extent that he bears responsibility for the second death of Rabin – the fact that he has been forgotten – it’s perhaps primarily due to the mood in Israel today. And the Palestinians, too, seem to prefer to enlist the indifferent/hostile “international community” to peace negotiations.
Yet Rabin’s first point, as formulated by Shlaim, must remain the primary concern of every Israeli politician: there’re grave risks in suing for peace, but a government that refuses to take them is failing in its duty. Seen in this light, the current preoccupation with Iran, though perhaps valid, may also serve as a diversion.
“Rabin is waiting for an heir,” Sarid wrote. The great disappointment of many of who voted for Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition, personable though he is, is that he doesn’t seem to qualify. He may belong to the same political party that Rabin did, but he’s, alas, not his heir. I’m not aware of anybody else who might qualify either. But then, as my readers often tell me, I’m a seemingly incurable pessimist.