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So Rabin Was Murdered at a Concert?

A new textbook for state religious elementary schools is infuriatingly simplistic in its treatment of the events leading up to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination

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File photo: A photo of mourning Israelis standing at the site of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination on just days after on November 7, 1995.
File photo: A photo of mourning Israelis standing at the site of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination on just days after on November 7, 1995.Credit: AFP

Last Friday night one of my children brought a new book, “Israel 70,” to the dinner table. Meant for elementary schools in the state religious system, it marks the upcoming 70th anniversary of Israel's independence.

A quick browse showed a familiar picture: a typical gender imbalance, an exaggerated emphasis on rabbinical figures, here and there some mention of a Zionist without a kippah, and if you really try hard you can find a reference to women who played a role in the rebirth of the Jewish state. There is nothing new under the sun that warms the seats of the dogmatic, male directorate of the national-religious education stream. However, when we reached the chapter devoted to Rabin’s assassination, even our habitual approach to these issues could not prepare us for the shock and shame. This incredible text bears examination.

The first paragraph gives a detailed explanation of the agreements signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which not only failed to reduce the bloodshed but led to the murder of many Jews in terror acts by suicide bombers, “who were perceived by the Palestinian street as heroes and holy-shaheeds-martyrs.” So much for historical background. The text goes on to say that this situation split the Israeli public, with some people viewing Yitzhak Rabin as responsible for the murder rampaging through our streets. “The atmosphere was grave,” the paragraph concludes in describing the days before the murder, “leading eventually to the unimaginable — the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.”

Finally, the third paragraph describes the murder “which took place at a big rally organized by the Israeli left, as a big happening, with many performing artists,” at the end of which “three shots were fired at the prime minister.”

An image from the "Israel 70" textbook, meant for elementary schools in Israel's state religious school system

“The assassin,” explains the text, “was a kippah-wearing young man named Yigal Amir” (misspelled in Hebrew, along with the wrong year —perhaps attesting to the editor’s commitment to facts).

The lines devoted by the authors to one of the most significant events in Israel’s history end with a description of rising tensions following the assassination, “when the political right, especially the religious right wing, was accused of being responsible for the murder.”

“With the passage of time,” say the authors of this text, “these rifts were healed and the harsh words of those days were moderated, finally subsiding.”

How simple. There were horrific terror attacks. All Palestinians supported them. The left continued to be nave, and one person, who happened to wear a kippah, got a bit confused. Not a word about the incitement that preceded the assassination. No mention of the role played by rabbis and right-wing leaders in fanning the flames. No review of the religious edicts (“din rodef” and “din moser”) that gave legitimacy to the act by preparing minds, which is often, as is well-known, followed by actions. A peace rally becomes a happening with performers, and like in any fairy tale, all’s well that ends well. No one speaks ill of religious people any more.

Like in many other instances, it’s hard to decide what is more vexing. First of all — choosing to focus on the terror attacks and the murder of Jews, including details about exploding buses, in the period preceding the assassination — which is what this curriculum unit is supposed to be teaching children about. Bringing this up only serves to legitimize the abomination. If not a legitimization, this is at least a sweetener, designed to make things more palatable.

Second, one may object to the sweeping blame assigned to the entire Zionist-religious camp for the murder. However, minimal intellectual integrity would require an explanation of how this accusation came about. The way the process is described as an ostensibly normal one — without mentioning the violent rallies, with images of Rabin wearing a kaffiyeh, with repeated accusations of treason hurled at him — is a deliberate misleading of an entire generation. A generation which, even if its parents chose to send it to a national-religious school out of a conviction that this education stream is the best-suited to the lifestyle practiced at home, still has a right to learn the history of its people in a less biased and manipulative manner.

The national-religious education stream can try and confer values of tradition and a religious way of life to its pupils. Its schools can reinforce Torah studies and instill an ideology of faith and fulfilment of religious obligations. That’s what it’s there for. But it can’t distort history whenever it’s inconvenient and it can’t sneak in patently political messages, even if most of its public identifies with these messages.

Unsurprisingly, the section of the book that follows the one on Rabin’s murder describes the rise to power of the right, characterizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as having tried “to adhere to the framework of the accords signed with the PLO, although within a short time it became clear to him and to all of us that the PLO had no intention of abiding by the conditions it had committed to.” Clear to him and to all of us. Anyone who thinks otherwise has no place in our religious education system, believe the directors of the national-religious education stream. To hell with the national component of this stream. In a response, the Education Ministry said that the text was inappropriate and that there was a foul-up that would be corrected.

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