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20th Anniversary of the Death of Yitzhak Rabin

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

October 31, 2015

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Yiztchak Rabin was shot?  I do and I hope the Confirmation students who were with me at Camp Swig that weekend on our retreat, remember as well.

In Israel everyone who is old enough remembers. Those who had been at the rally that night, did not at first know what was going on. Few heard the shots because of all the music and noise, and many were back home and listening to the radio before they had a clue that something terrible had happened. But once they heard they came back and gathered spontaneously at the square in Tel Aviv and all along the road when later Rabin’s body was brought up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to be buried at Har Herzl with other heroes of the state.

There have been many articles written about how things would have been different had Rabin not been assassinated. I have to admit I have had that thought more than once.  And we can ask, would his leadership have helped? Would there have been a more consistent implementation of the agreements? Would that have led to a difference in the development of Palestinian leadership? The Palestinians have had some responsible leadership over the last decade, but that leadership has not been able to sustain itself.  If Rabin had lived, might we have more Palestinian technocrats having replaced Abbas?

Further I wonder: Could the second intifada, the one that began in 2000 have been avoided, and with it the despair that even progressive Israelis feel in their perception that there is no partner for peace? What else might have developed in a different way?
But counterfactuals get you only so far- for me the more important question this year is in what ways is the situation today similar to  that of Israel on the verge of Rabin’s assassination, 20 years ago November 4, 1995, and what should we do about this.

Last night we included the Dorsay’s friend, Richard Lakin, victim of the terror attack on a bus in Jerusalem in our Kaddish list. He was a retired principal who worked teaching English as a volunteer in Israel to Jewish and Arab youth, a member of Congregation Kol Haneshamah which many of us have visited, an active proponent of pluralism and co-existence. But even as he was mourned by so many, my husband Michael, found on the internet, the most hateful remarks by right wingers celebrating his death.

Let me share this in quotation:;

Less than a day after Richard Lakin passed away Tuesday from the wounds he suffered in an attack by two Palestinians two weeks ago, thousands of right-wingers on the Internet celebrated his death. The flood of hate posts began after the right-wing Israeli rapper, ‘The Shadow,’ wrote on Facebook that the murder of Lakin, an activist with the ‘Tag Meir’ group, which visits Palestinians who were attacked by Jews, should be a wake-up call to left-wingers. “He needs to be buried in Gaza and people should  defecate on his gravestone,” posted one on Facebook over a picture of Lakin’s face. “Another dead terrorist,” wrote another. “So it turns out Arabs do good things sometimes.” “For me he is another terrorist.” “Since I really love the left-wing, I want to wish them the same thing,” other wrote. 
The day before his death, Lakins’s son Micha served as the lead plaintiff in filing a class-action lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social media network of allowing incitement to kill Jews. Micha blamed Palestinian incitement on social media for his father's death. The day after his father’s death, Micha slammed how right-wing Israelis use it to incite against peace activists. 

Unfortunately the postings about Richard Lakin are not an isolated incident. Just this week the Israeli Football Association considered action against Jerusalem Beitar, the right wing team,  because its fans were chanting slogans praising Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir at a game while Amir’s brother was held for questioning by police because of a threat he made on Facebook to the life of Israel’s current president Reuven Rivlin, who though a member of the Likud party has shown respect for the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens.

The violence against Rabbi Ascherman, the vandalism against progressive institutions like the Yad be Yad school, the murder of a 16 year old  at the Gay Rights Parade, I could go on and on about the intra-Jewish conflict and the strength of Jewish militant fundamentalism.

Many Israeli commentators have noted that nothing has been done to dismantle the ideologies that gave birth to Rabin’s assassin and that frightens me.

Another parallel I draw may perhaps be the cloud with a silver lining. Rabin was not always a crusader for peace. I”d like to hope that there could also be a parallel in Israeli today to the learning that Rabin experienced as an individual. Those of us on the left prefer to forget Rabin’s role in the first intifada.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said: "We will fight with all our power against any element that tries by violence to upset our full control over Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. I know the descriptions of what is going on in the territories, the way it is interpreted in the media, is not helping the image of Israel in the world. But I am convinced that above and beyond the temporary problem of an image, the supreme responsibility of our government is to fight the violence in the territories and to use all the means at our disposal to do that. We will do that, and we will succeed."17

As Amira Hass, the Haaretz Correspondent who covers the territories wrote:

For Palestinians, Yitzhak Rabin is remembered first of all as someone who instructed soldiers to break their arms and legs, when they began their popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in 1987. (

Over time though  Rabin came to the understanding that force would not ultimately bring Israel peace and security and that there had to be a diplomatic initiative to move things forward in the region.

As Amira Hass quotes a Palestinian activist, later in the same article:

"I can't call him a dove, but he underwent a process of liberation from previous patterns," says Jamal. "The order he gave to break bones brought out wild craziness in the Israeli soldiers. But the decision to hold a dialogue released in Israeli society other, positive moods, and among us also, there were positive moods. "(

The current government has as its mantra that the conflict can be contained, but this strategy is currently being put to the test by the despair in Palestinian society. Israelis across the political spectrum are questioning where is the security they thought they were getting in voting for the right wing parties and there is blowback from the unleashing of unrestrained force in the incidents of non-terrorists being killed by Israeli civilians. Wil this lead to a Rabin type conversion among Israeli citizens- time will tell.

Rabin’s legacy is a complicated one, but one that can help us in the present situation. Yehudah Kurtzer, president of the Harman Institute, a modern Orthodox study center in Jerusalem, sees Rabin’s legacy as part of the ongoing dynamic of Zionism. Rabin’s belief in a revision of the status quo was like that of early Zionists unwilling to accept the current reality of the Jewish people.

Further,  in spite of his own personal reservations about the very process in which he was engaged, Rabin believed that only such a process could lead ultimately to Israel’s long term safety, security and stability. Standing between Shimon Perez’s utopian universalism and the cynical self- promoting “pragmatism” that has characterized the Israel’s political leadership of the right of the last generation, he remained heroically hopeful. So may we as well.


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