Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination added considerably to his image, and the man became a myth. That’s natural. Countless roads, junctions and schools would not be named after Israel’s fifth (and 10th) prime minister, had it not been for the murder.
Had he died naturally the anniversary would be observed modestly, as in the case of every other deceased and forgotten prime minister, and the annual memorials that continue for weeks, longer than Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day taken together, would not take place in this format. It’s doubtful that anybody would be talking about his “legacy.”
In fact, Rabin’s legacy has been inflated immeasurably. He was an average prime minister during his first term, and a good one during his second. But does that suffice to talk about a legacy? What legacy, and why?
He lacked a distinctive social vision, and he preferred democracy without any interference from the High Court or the B’Tselem human rights organization. Human rights and international law meant nothing to him, and at least at the start, he was dragged toward peacemaking; his security doctrine was Israel’s security doctrine, the unofficial state religion.
The Oslo accords, his finest accomplishment, failed because, among other things, neither he nor President Shimon Peres dared to take a risk and evacuate the settlements, without which there can be no real step toward peace. Thus, he was no relentless peace warrior, even though he courageously spurred a breakthrough.
However, there is one thing at which Rabin excelled, perhaps more so than his predecessors and successors, and this is a quality which should be his real legacy, and bequeathed to all Israeli politicians. Rabin was a real, genuine and authentic person. Viewing dozens of hours of the man on film, via the camera he loved and which accompanied him from a young age, one comes away with the feeling that he was a genuine person who progressed from hour to hour in his private and public life.
His authenticity included the expression of disgust that covered his face each time he was forced to sit alongside Peres at Labor party meetings. Genuine, also, was his hesitating handshake with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.
On the eve of the Six-Day War we saw him collapse for a spell, in an entirely human show of nerves; in his famous first Intifada pronouncement “break their arms and legs,” we witnessed the anger and shock that gripped him in response to the Palestinians’ brazenly defiant action of rising up to oppose the occupation. He called the settlers that kept spinning around “propellers” and not pioneers when they really got on his nerves. (Can you imagine Peres doing that?)
In the White House in Washington, we saw him look embarrassed, yes embarrassed, when asked to give a good night kiss to Amy Carter, the president’s daughter.
It’s not hard to guess how Rabin’s successors, Shimon Peres or Benjamin Netanyahu, would behave in such a situation. Peres would say “make a muscle,” as he would say to every child who came across his path during an election campaign, and Netanyahu would crack one of his automatic and fake smiles.
Rabin, the shy red-head, acted differently. He was the genuine article. He was not afraid of expressing authentic human emotions. To redden with anger, to retreat shyly, to express disgust, to speak the truth − that was Rabin.
Unlike most politicians, he did not view the expression of human emotion as weakness. Such expression actually gave him strength; people found him more credible than other politicians.
This test of truth should be administered to every politician. Think of Peres’ treasure chest of cliches − he would never, never, show his true emotions, even if you were to wake him up in the middle of the night. Decades ago, when I failed in some work matter with him, I implored him to be angry, to yell, or at least to scold me.
Similarly, Netanyahu is also a well-oiled machine. With him, each gesture, look and utterance is punctiliously planned and staged; you will never find him acting authentically. When have you believed him? How can you?
Think about Shaul Mofaz’s contrived grins, about Ehud Barak’s stilted words, about Isaac Herzog forced recitations, and about how Dan Meridor makes excuses for Netanyahu.
A splendid masquerade party. We don’t believe any of them; we believed Rabin. True, a leader is measured, first and foremost, by his acts and achievements, but the truth also counts.
This week, during the memorial days, I think longingly of Rabin. A real person, for a change. .
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