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Op-eds

We cannot forget Yitzhak Rabin

  • EdenPlein
Yitzhak Rabin was an Israeli military hero and political leader, who served two terms as prime minister. He was assassinated while in office on 4 November 1995 in Tel Aviv.
by EDEN PLEIN | Nov 14, 2019

According to Knesset law, the Hebrew date of the assassination, the 12th of Heshvan, serves as Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day. All ceremonies and educational programmes on this day are devoted to commemorating the life and legacy of Rabin, promoting and protecting democratic values, and examining the danger that violence poses to society and state.

Rabin was born in Jerusalem to two Russian immigrants. He attended school in the Galilee before enlisting in the Palmach in 1941. He rose steadily through the ranks of the military, earning a reputation as an outstanding intellectual and a capable thinker in matters of military strategy.

Rabin became the Israel Defence Forces chief of staff in 1964, and was a prominent figure in the victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. In 1974, he took up the position of prime minister, representing the Labour Party. In 1984, he held the position of minister of defence under the government of national unity, and in 1992, he was elected as prime minister once again. Although Rabin distinguished himself in his early years as a military man, he is best remembered for enacting perhaps the most consequential shift in the history of Israeli foreign policy: the launch of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the signing of the historic Oslo Accords in 1993, for which he earned a Nobel Prize but paid with his life.

Today, more than ever, we have a duty to observe Rabin’s memorial day. Twenty-four years since the assassination of one of Israel’s greatest leaders, the youth movement is faced with two great challenges.

The first is fighting against the downplay of this important anniversary, and the disconnection from its historical context through the neutralisation of left-wing politics.

The second is collectively remembering an event that we did not experience. Our generation does not carry the memory of the night of 4 November 1995. Nonetheless, we are tasked with the responsibility on this day to awaken our diasporic Zionist community to Rabin’s legacy as one of transformative leadership and standing bravely in the face of difficult decisions.

We learn that on the side of his commitment to peace, Rabin did not wait idly for the Israel “after peace”. He did not wait for a peace that would solve all problems once and for all. Instead, he was brave enough to tackle Israel’s problems in the here and now.

It is thus our duty as Habonim Dror to ensure that the assassination of Rabin is marked in history not only as a sad event, but a formative one too. It is our obligation to ensure that the efforts expended to bring our nation to the brink of peace are not wasted.

The risk that confronts us on this anniversary day is that no lesson concerning the world view which led to the assassination was learned. If we observe the past two decades of Israeli politics, we see that the right did not weaken as a result of the assassination, and nor did the left get stronger. Political positions did not change. Rather, democracy became a tool in the hands of those who threaten to destroy it.

Rabin was not murdered because of a momentary weakness in Israel’s democracy. Rather, crucially, the assassination took place against the background of a social reality that did not bring us together, but forced us apart. We had no shared language, we had no shared vision, and we were not able to stress the values we shared. This is what threatened to destroy us.

And this is not just the reality of the past. Israeli society continues to face difficult and painful challenges, and Rabin’s memorial day continues to be one with a relevant lesson for many generations to come.

On this day, we ask ourselves difficult questions about the common vision that guides us and the values that bind us. And while courageously striving to find answers to these questions, for us as Zionist educators in our community, this day reminds us that we have the opportunity to mould future generations.

Let us bequeath to these future generations not just our differences; not only the dry understandings between us; but also a language to speak to with each other.

This is our obligation.

Eden Plein is Habonim Dror Southern Africa’s S’ganit Rosh Machaneh 2019

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