The Meaning of Rabin's Murder

There have been 11 Israeli prime ministers. Not one left behind a "heritage" as publicly debated as the heritage of Yitzhak Rabin.

There have been 11 Israeli prime ministers (and about 30 cabinets). Not one of them left behind a "heritage" as publicly debated as the heritage of Yitzhak Rabin. In this we see Israeli society's lack of proportion, its special talent for blurring the dividing line between the marginal and the important.

Each prime minister has left some mark on the nation's history. Yet only a handful of researchers, historians, or a few family members examine what might be "the heritage" of Moshe Sharett, Levy Eshkol or Golda Meir. Even David Ben-Gurion's enormous legacy is not nurtured, and the unique contribution of Menachem Begin is not being passed on.

Although institutions to immortalize the values of Ben-Gurion and Begin have been erected, there is only one of each and they are scholarly in nature. This diagnosis is even more valid regarding prime ministers who are still with us: nobody talks of the "heritage" of Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. Shimon Peres is a little different in this respect, having already erected a pantheon for himself in the form of the Peres Center for Peace.

Israeli society's attitude to Yitzhak Rabin is different. Not only has his name been immortalized in some 150 institutions and sites, but instead of dealing with the significance of his murder, most of the attention is dedicated to his "heritage." Evidently, had Rabin passed away naturally, his position in the national Hall of Fame would be on a par with that of the other prime ministers and would have received the place it deserves according to his contribution and mark on the annals of the nation. Since he was murdered, the criteria have been shuffled. The state and its institutions are going out of their way to glorify his name, thus concealing their guilt for not protecting him properly and covering up the reasons that led to his violent death.

Instead of dealing with Rabin's "heritage," the public debate must be inundated with examinations and interpretations of the causes leading to the tragic ending of his public mission. The annual commemoration days must be used as catalysts to teach insights on the dangerous implications of incitement. Among other things it must focus on the limits of public controversy, the duty to obey the law, the proper rules of the game for making national decisions, the precedent threatening democratic society's ability to continue functioning after the political assassination of its leader, the built-in contradiction between the halakha edict, or the intention of the rabbis interpreting it, and an order by the authorized government.

This discourse should not be just on principle but on the concrete and the practical. It must reprise the national mood prior to November 4, 1995, and the public debate on the Oslo Accords. The new debate must amplify Yigal Amir's declared motives for murdering Rabin and his family's support of the act to this day. Neither can it ignore the link between the incandescent political atmosphere preceding the murder and the climate of discourse now, following the disengagement from Gaza.

Due to obvious political motives, Rabin's memorial days - including Friday's 10th anniversary of his assassination, are not being taken advantage of to hold debate on the significance of the heinous act. This shirking is convenient for the Likud and the rest of the right-wing parties, because of their part in inflaming the emotions 10 years ago. For some reason, the Labor Party is also lending a hand to this evasion. Instead of dealing with the main issue, everyone is dealing with a marginal aspect of it.

Rabin's heritage is a small aspect of the awful full picture that includes his assassination. Schools, parliament, the media and other forums of debate should deal with the murder and not - with all due respect - with the legacy of the Palmah.