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Facing the Jewish fundamentalism that murdered a prime minister

Twenty-one years after the monster of Jewish fundamentalism took the life of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel refuses to confront its demons.

By Alon Mizrahi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Annual Memorial Ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, October 26, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Annual Memorial Ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, Jerusalem, October 26, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

I was in the shower when Rabin was assassinated. This is how I remember it: they said something happened in Malkhei Israel Square, that shots were heard. I stepped into the shower, and when I came out the television said that someone had attempted to assassinate the prime minister and that he was shot.

They didn’t say anything about his condition, but it was fairly clear to me that this was the end; had he been okay, we would have been told. But they did not tell us he was okay. I stood and leaned on the entrance to the bathroom, clean shaven. My mother and brothers were in the living room, and no one really had any idea what to say. The feeling of shock was similar, perhaps, to what we felt after the Dizengoff Street bus bombing in Tel Aviv, or during the Ramallah lynching, or when the Twin Towers came crumbling down.

When Rabin was murdered I was a young Mizrahi Israeli from the periphery, who grew up in a right-wing Zionist home. I was taught to adore Menachem Begin, to recognize the uniqueness of the Jewish nation, to know the intrinsic violence of the Arabs, to remember the righteousness of the State of Israel. I also knew about the hostility of Ashkenazim, especially leftist Ashkenazim — and most importantly establishment Ashkenazim — toward people like us. Meanwhile we also had great respect for the establishment, leading to a dissonance we could not resolve.

Fear is perhaps the strongest component of our lives. The ultimate guide of human experience. I learned a lot about fear (and it’s good friend, pain) in the years before the assassination. But I have learned even more in the years that followed when two of my greatest fears turned into reality: one of my brothers became ill with paranoid schizophrenia, and my other brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Let’s talk about Jewish fundamentalism

Actually, this entire article is about fear.

Because for my own experiences of fear — like that of many other Israelis — Rabin’s assassination symbolizes the embodiment of a national demon, one that we never learned to contend with. Neither in the years before the murder, and despite the fact that there were plenty of precursors, such as terror attacks by the Jewish Underground against Palestinians or the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque, which may have had an even greater influence on life in this country than Rabin’s murder, nor in the years that followed.

We prefer not to know or talk about it, the way people prefer to deal with their biggest fears.

Israeli settlers attack a Palestinian home in Hebron, April 25, 2008.

Israeli settlers attack a Palestinian home in Hebron, April 25, 2008.

The Jewish fundamentalism that revealed itself for all to see, the ancient, almost demonic madness that reveals itself among communities in which national and religious mythologies play far too great a role in the way they understand themselves — we don’t want to know about any of it. We want to watch Master Chef, The Voice, and Big Brother. Oh, and “news” about nothing.

We do not want to admit to this fear, to the point that there is nothing in this world more important to us than to deny and distort — no matter how many times reality brings to focus this threat on the Jewish ethos of morality, justice, and knowing what it is like to be a victim.

Rabin’s murder showed us this monster. I felt this fear deep down in my stomach. It does not matter how many times the Right tells itself that Rabin and Peres were vessels of foreign interests, betraying the interests of their people — the idea that a bullet punctured the body of our prime minister, putting an end to his life as he lay in a pool of blood on the operating table, has not passed.

There was a monster lurking among us in the darkness. And there was nothing that could be done to defend what was done in its name. Jewish fundamentalist madness is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Simply because it is too frightening.

The fear of Ashkenazi secularism

Beyond the silence that accompanied that day, beyond Bach’s Agnus Dei, which accompanied the television broadcasts in the days following the murder, there remains another event tied to his killing — one that expresses the fear of the demonic Other that has molded Israel, alongside a fear of the Holocaust and of our inner monster.

I am talking about the eulogy delivered by Noa Ben Artzi, Rabin’s granddaughter.

No one really remembers Ben Artzi’s exact words, but her beauty and tears were seared into our collective consciousness. It was the last time a left-wing Ashkenazi was allowed to tug at our heartstrings.

Here I wanted to return to the shower, to the reality in which I grew up. Because when I was in it, I did not understand it. You almost never understand what truly drives you: there is a clear limit to the human ability to analyze our life experiences from a neutral place. I argue, not in the name of some theoretical knowledge, but out of personal experience, is that the fear of Ashkenazi leftist secularism is the greatest fear undergirding the Israeli experience.

Shimon Peres speaks at a rally in honor of Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. (photo: Haggai Matar)

Shimon Peres speaks at a rally in honor of Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. (photo: Haggai Matar)

I do not know if it is in fact greater than the fear of recognizing the murderous potential of Jewish fundamentalism, but I do feel that in the last few decades, it is far more significant than the fear of annihilation that Netanyahu deceitfully peddles on a regular basis.

That suffocating existential fear of a secular, Ashkenazi Israel is perhaps the most crucial element in Israel’s contemporary (and past) psychology. Without this fear, the Right has no way to rule. It is this fear that brings Mizrahi and religious voters. The external, existential threat is only a distraction. The real and visceral motivation of the Right is a fear of an Ashkenazi and secular Israeli.

There is perhaps no one who was motivated by secular-Ashkenazi Israeli identity while remaining beloved like Yitzhak Rabin. And perhaps there is not a single moment in the history of our people, whether in its Zionist incarnation or its previous ones, in which the ordinary, religious, victimized, Godly story was threatened by another story entirely.

Struggling against the lurking monster

The monster had to kill Rabin so that it could continue to control our consciousness. Yigal Amir, in this sense, was only an expression of the Jewish subconscious, which refuses to move toward an era of secularism and worldliness. It seems that since the murder, this stream of Judaism only continues to entrench itself in its crazed worldview, which promotes violence, separation, and extremism in Israel, like in Turkey and the Arab world, or anywhere where people view their relationship with reality through mysticism and history, rather than the here and now.

The Israel of Rabin took a severe blow. I do not think, however, that it was completely defeated, or that it died.

Tonight I am going to the rally in memory of the prime minister, because I want to hug Rabin. Just like that. I want to hug the Israel which I was raised to fear. I looked at that Israel as if it were an alien when it gathered in the square to sing songs and light candles. I was shocked by the murder but I certainly was not part of that Israel.

Now I live in Tel Aviv, and to a certain extent I am part of it — it no longer frightens me so much. I saw its human face.

As for the demon among us, waiting for its moment to burst in the name of the Kingdom of Israel, I say the following: you may have won the battle, but the war is not over. We may not be fighting in the name of God, but that does not mean that we do not have hope or courage.

Alon Mizrahi is a writer and a blogger at Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Eliza

      ‘The external, existential threat is only a distraction. The real and visceral motivation of the Right is a fear of an Ashkenazi and secular Israel’.

      The may well be so, but just what else is holding Jewish Israelis together but their shared fear of the Palestinian; including their shared fear of actually coming to a reckoning up of Zionist creation mythology and lies. The most basic is that there ever was a land without people for people without a land.

      Can Israel actually continue to exist without enemies?

      Reply to Comment
      • Frank John

        What a wonderful, concise and thoughtful comment. Thank you.
        Of course, that is exactly what Yahoo and his corhorts are doing. Spreading lies, (Palestinians coming to vote in “droves”), exaggerating the strength of the enemy (eg. Iran), polorizing the Israelis. He is trying to find the enemy within to help him stay in power.

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    2. Ben

      “…there is nothing in this world more important to us than to deny and distort. … That suffocating existential fear of a secular, Ashkenazi Israel is perhaps the most crucial element in Israel’s contemporary (and past) psychology. … The external, existential threat is only a distraction. The real and visceral motivation of the Right is a fear of an Ashkenazi and secular Israeli.“

      One sees this ‘deny and distort’ imperative here all the time in the comments. I think Alon Mizrahi captures something really fundamental to the conflict and why it has not been solved by people who could solve it. I think Israelis at a deep level do not want to face the conflicts among themselves and the modern world threats of anomie and ennui that await them in a mundane, bourgeois, modern secular world shorn of the heroic, pioneering, wagons-circled, reinforced tribal identity the settlement ‘enterprise’ and the conflict affords (and which draws so many American settlers escaping their humdrum American lives). At the deepest level they treasure the militaristic heroism and sense of unity and intense meaning it gives them (and this is not to disparage these emotions in and of themselves—they are human, and the fears and dangers are real—both deriving from the conflict and deriving from the post-conflict problem of ennui). The anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote about these themes with some clarity and insight in ‘The Denial of Death’ and other works. Peace in this analysis becomes a specter hovering over the land. At the deeper unconscious levels of fear Mizrahi articulates. I expect I’ll be told with some ferocity that I am a presumptuous outsider who knows nothing, or that I am just a plain idiot, but you can’t accuse Mizrahi of being an outsider and knowing nothing and sometimes it takes being either outside or specially placed inside like Mizrahi to see things and admit you see them.

      Reply to Comment
    3. carmen

      “As for the demon among us, waiting for its moment to burst in the name of the Kingdom of Israel, I say the following: you may have won the battle, but the war is not over. We may not be fighting in the name of God, but that does not mean that we do not have hope or courage.”

      The israel of rabin was the israel of the ‘break their bones’. He may have wanted to atone for his actions in the formation of the zionist state, but it was too little and way too late. Plus he had the future inciter in chief and his treachery that lead to his death. However, I hear you prayer and hope for every person here that the right and pseudoleft will burst into flames and out of that fire emerges a moral, secular democratic state for all of us.

      Reply to Comment