rabin - Haaretz - 1994
Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and King Hussein of Jordan at a ceremony marking a peace accord between Israel and Jordan, October 26, 1994. Photo by Haaretz
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On October 16, 1993, inside the Israeli Boeing jet that was idling on the tarmac of Jakarta Airport, I experienced one of the high points of my journalistic career. Together with my dear colleague, the late Dan Semama of Israel Television, I had been chosen to enter the Indonesian capital to cover the historic meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Suharto. Before the encounter, we were to be privately briefed by the head of the Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, and by Rabin himself.

Those were the heady days immediately following the signing of the Oslo Accords. Rabin had been on an official visit to China and, while we were in the sky, supposedly on our way back to Israel through Tashkent, the pilot announced that the plane would be landing in Jakarta for the first public visit by an Israeli head of state to the world’s most populous Muslim country. It was history in the making, we all knew, and I thanked my lucky stars that I had been singled out to accompany Rabin on his three hour visit to Suharto’s home, while the rest of his entourage – including my envious colleagues – would be forced to sweat it out on the airplane.

After Shavit had finished his compelling backgrounder, Rabin spoke of the pivotal importance of Indonesia and of the “window of opportunity” that the signing of the Oslo Accords had created to forge new ties with the Muslim world. He said that he viewed the fledgling Israeli-Palestinian peace process as an instrument with which Israel could create a counterbalance to the extremist Iranian regime which practiced, as he was fond of saying “Khomeinism without Khomeini”, by forging “buffer zones” that would blunt the spread of fundamentalist extremists.

If the peace process had continued to languish, Rabin added, the Iranian-led extremists would have found it much easier to whip up hatred of Israel and hatred of the Jews throughout the Arab and Muslim world. They would have a convenient pretext for their continued efforts to achieve nuclear power. The lack of a peace process, Rabin said, had been a godsend for the crazies in Iran and its newly-found momentum was a harsh blow for the “forces of darkness."

Rabin’s briefing had been off the record, but, frankly, he had said these things several times before, and, in any case, they seemed too elementary to warrant much professional excitement. Let’s stop philosophizing, I thought to myself, and get on with the groundbreaking visit.

BUT THAT, of course, was then, and this is now. If I had run with the headline RABIN: “LACK OF PEACE PROCESS FUELS MUSLIM ANTISEMITISM” in 1993 it would hardly have merited a yawn, but by 2011, it would be considered a bloody good story that would have engendered countless reactions and follow-ups.

Mitt Romney would have castigated Rabin for lacking any understanding of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, Newt Gingrich would have called on Israelis to kick him out of office, and Rick Perry would have described him as an “apologist for hatred of the Jews." The Simon Wiesenthal Centre would have said that his words are "beyond shocking." Jennifer Rubin would have written in the Washington Post that “the reaction to Yitzhak Rabin’s ludicrous assertions on anti-Semitism has been swift and harsh, except from the Israeli Labor Party, which bizarrely embraced him” and even Jeffrey Goldberg, in elegant understatement, would have written in the Atlantic “how a smart man succumbed to such dubious thinking is beyond me.” The Weekly Standard would have crucified the ISRAELI WHO BLAMES ISRAEL FOR ANTISEMITISM, while the pro-Israel advocacy group “Act for Israel” would have organized a digital petition that could have spread like wildfire, calling on Jews everywhere to “Censure Rabin."

That, in any case, is what happened to US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman this week, who, after making a speech that Rabin would probably not have quarreled with – and which was apparently misquoted in the Israeli press - found himself sucked into a maelstrom of condemnations, denunciations and excommunications worthy of a true self-hating Jew and a dangerous enemy of state. The son of a poor Holocaust survivor who died when Gutman was 16, he graduated from Columbia and from Harvard Law School, clerked on the Supreme Court, was Special Assistant Director of the FBI for counterterrorism and then a highly successful lawyer for 27 years, but that all came to naught when he got inadvertently caught in the crossfire of the anti-Obama killing fields, where people shoot first and don’t even bother to ask questions later.

Israel should not be held responsible, of course, for the rise of Muslim extremism or for the kind of vile anti-Semitism that was once restricted to the fundamentalist few but has now spread far and wide, from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia to the Muslim Europe that Gutman was speaking of. At the same time, there is something scary in this blanket rejection of truths that were only recently self-evident, not only to Rabin but to all but the most dogmatic observers of the Middle East: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the fuel which feeds Muslim hatred of the Jews; that in much of the non-Arab Muslim world, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are relatively new phenomena that are, indeed, closely linked to perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that its resolution would deprive the “Khomeinis” of their most potent poison; and yes, that contrary to Christians, for whom Jew-hating is a 2,000 year old dedicated preoccupation which has nothing to do with modern-day Israel, for many Muslims these distinctions are blurred and thus, at least arguably, can be influenced by Israel’s actual behavior.

Rabin’s kind of Zionism entailed the belief that Israel could be the master of its own fate and could influence the course of history by making bold and courageous moves. 18 years later, Israelis, Jews and many of their supporters appear to have adopted a contrary, fatalistic approach which sees an endlessly escalating conflict that Israel is helpless to stop (and therefore exempt from even trying).Thus, by today’s standards, the rational and sometimes ruthless Rabin would probably be considered a delusional dreamer who’d best be run out of town before he does any more harm.

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