For the past two weeks, the country has once again been in an uproar over the slain leader. Twenty-two years after his murder, the annual memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin, which took place Saturday night, continues to spark bitter disagreements – most of them fabricated, almost all of them over trivialities – and this year more so than ever.
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For a week, people argued over the omission of the word “murder” from the advertisements; another week was devoted to battling the fact that a settler had been invited. A political movement that never raised a finger against the settlements, and which in fact is their founding father, woke up for a moment and fought valiantly against a settler’s speech.
A rally that was never important or influential, that was merely the last toehold of a movement that has long been destroyed, has become a national event. The movement’s remnants cling by their fingertips to the rally as if it were an ancient religious ritual of memory and purification. They know why.
Aside from the rally, not much remains. There’s just that big annual event, a sign that the peace camp is alive and well, battling for its principles and fighting over the country’s character. Death throes.
Just as Rabin the man was far from Rabin the myth, the camp that is fighting over the podium in Rabin Square is far from its own self-image. It’s high time to stop lying.
This rally is the Yom Kippur of the destroyed movement. Just as religious Jews sin all year and believe that the hymn “Open a gate for us” will wipe out all their iniquities, the peace camp, which doesn’t fight for anything, believes that singing “I’m going to weep for you, be strong in heaven” in the square once a year will cleanse it of its shameful sins of silence and apathy, of averting its eyes and doing nothing.
The emptier and weaker this camp becomes and the farther it creeps to the right, the stormier the battle over the nature of the ceremony becomes. Organizational issues have become ideological. They fight like lions over who will be invited, rise up in holy wrath over every word in the advertisement. The ideological vacuum had to be filled by something. The rally is what has filled it.
I had the privilege of knowing Rabin fairly well for several years, and I greatly admired and esteemed him. I worked with Shimon Peres and was jealous of Rabin’s staff – the enemy’s staff – because they loved him. To this day, I still have two notes he wrote me.
Here is one, from June 13, 1982: “To Gideon Levy, I hereby return, with thanks, the 200 shekels I borrowed from you on Friday.” All the simplicity and modesty that today seem unimaginable are in this note scrawled by the former and future prime minister, who didn’t have a penny in his pocket for a taxi to take him home on Friday. The second note is personal, and is even more moving.
Everything that can be said has already been said about his integrity, his leadership, his modesty and his seriousness. He took several courageous steps, but they weren’t bold enough. He wasn’t Israel’s Mahatma Gandhi, as he is painted in the mythology that has grown up around him; far from it.
His murder, his heirs and the emptiness his murder left behind has inflated his image to legendary proportions. This inflation has been nurtured by the Zionist left in order to inflate that camp’s image in its own eyes. The equation is simple: If Rabin was a legendary warrior for peace, then the camp that carries his memory with it always is a peace camp, and no less resolute.
This is utterly groundless. Rabin’s murder isn’t what murdered peace, and his mourners haven’t advanced toward any goal since then. Therefore, the rallies aren’t just superfluous and hollow, they’re also damaging. They create a facade, as if a camp that no longer exists actually still remained here. As if the annual gathering in the square, which is deserted for most of the year, were enough to turn nothingness into a fighting peace camp.
The morning after the rally, once the ecstasy has dissipated, the reality ought to slap them in the face – the youth movement members in their blue shirts who have long ceased to go forward, the children of the candles who have grown up but made no impact, the elderly who still remember but do nothing but wax nostalgic. It’s the reality that there is no meaningful peace camp in Israel. Aside from a few determined and admirable groups, there is no real opposition to the government and no real opposition to the occupation.
Therefore, there is no possibility of change from within. The ceremony is over.