And nobody objects.
I was listening on the radio to the prime minister’s speech in the Knesset on Wednesday for the 18th anniversary (on the Hebrew calendar) of the Rabin assassination, and it just struck me how far we’ve come in this country. Bibi Netanyahu is now preaching to Israel the lessons of Rabin’s murder. And nobody says anything. Members of the Rabin family sitting in the Knesset, whatever they were thinking, didn’t say a word. Neither did the MKs of the Labor Party or Meretz, or MK Ahmed Tibi or anybody else who lived through that time and understands what was wrong about the scene taking place. Nobody in the whole country saw anything about it worth mentioning. That’s the way it is now – Netanyahu preaches to Israel the lessons of the Rabin assassination with all the fake pathos he can muster up, and anybody who’s got a problem with that shuts up, and everybody else, the great majority, accepts it as natural and right.
Many in Israel, myself included – even those who disagreed with him from time to time – always appreciated his profound loyalty to the State of Israel, and saw how he wanted and worked towards its benefit. Rabin knew how to stand determinedly for Israel’s interests as he understood them, and he represented the country with pride.
I was standing toward the front of a huge crowd at an anti-Oslo rally in Jerusalem in 1994, and the chants of “Rabin boged!” (“Rabin is a traitor!”) were so loud that Netanyahu, speaking at the microphone on the stage, had to pause a few times until the roar died down so he could hear himself.
After Netanyahu won the election in 1996 and became prime minister, then-Labor MK Dalia Itzik said she could not bear the thought that he was sleeping in Rabin’s bed. This was what made his election victory over Peres that year, eight months after the murder, so unspeakable – Netanyahu had metaphorically “murdered and also inherited,” in the Biblical phrase that was often applied to him. This was something that was understood for years after the assassination; Netanyahu’s role as leader of a toxic opposition to the Oslo Accords, as the ringmaster of that satanic circus, followed him wherever he went.
But then, in 2000, the Oslo Accords imploded in the second Intifada and suddenly the Rabin assassination lost its political meaning, its power to mobilize people. It was still sad, tragic, criminal that he was killed, of course, but the cause he died for will not be missed. Rabin was wrong and the opposition, even if they went too far at times, was right. So let’s forget about the political reason for his murder, let’s keep politics and the assassination separate, let’s speak of unifying things like tolerance and the rule of law, and let’s mourn the Rabin everyone can admire.
He was a fighter and a commander in the Palmah; Chief of General Staff of the IDF and one of the liberators of Jerusalem; ambassador to the United States; Prime Minister; man of defense and man of peace.
(We all want peace, nothing divisive about that.)
Rabin worked very hard as Chief of General Staff, Minister of Defense and Prime Minister to ensure the strength of the IDF as an essential instrument for safeguarding our future and achieving peace with our neighbors.
It was the old Rabin whom Netanyahu was praising – Rabin the militarist. The Rabin of the Oslo Accords, who stood for two years against the Right’s shrieking onslaught and told them where to get off until, to everyone’s shock but no one’s surprise, he was killed – that Rabin was blacked out of the presentation. If somebody who knew nothing about the murder had heard Netanyahu’s speech, he would think Rabin must have been killed by someone from Peace Now.
But that’s Israel today, and nobody objects, nobody even notices. Bibi has gone from being the villain of the Rabin assassination to being the official keeper of the flame. The problem is not that Israelis have forgotten the murder, the problem is that the “murderer has also inherited” over and over again. And there’s no sign of him giving up his inheritance; when he finally does, he’ll very likely pass it to an heir of his choosing. Maybe one day an Israeli prime minister will name a West Bank settlement after Rabin. Why not? History, as was illustrated so starkly in the Knesset this week, is written by the winners.